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Rangers rotation isn't playoff-ready yet

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Texas Rangers' rotation still has some work to do before the postseason. Heck, it has some work to do just to get to the postseason.

Texas enters the final three weeks of its schedule with the back end of the rotation trying to get refreshed enough to get the club to the playoff finish line and beyond.

C.J. Wilson, who will become a rich man this winter in free agency, has been his usual consistent self. He'll go for his 15th win Tuesday at Tampa Bay, which would tie his career high.

But behind him are starters with questions. Derek Holland is beginning to harness his solid stuff and is gaining confidence, but he still must show he can do it consistently down the stretch and into the postseason. He has stayed physically strong despite his innings count and is finding the best groove right now of the young starters.

Matt Harrison appeared to hit a mental and physical wall. But after a skipped start, he felt his legs under him in his last outing and he hopes to use that as a springboard to putting up numbers closer to what he did earlier this summer, when he was nearly an automatic quality start.

Alexi Ogando was relegated to bullpen duty in Monday's 5-1 loss to the Rays because it was clear he needed a break. He mixed up his secondary pitches better and had a nice slider after allowing a leadoff double and getting out of the inning.

"I think it will all calm down," manager Ron Washington said. "It's youth. You're talking about young starters who haven't done this before. They are being asked to shoulder the load and they aren't used to it. We're trying to step back, breath out and then get them back going again."

Then there's Colby Lewis, who hasn't looked like the same guy who beat the Yankees twice in the ALCS last year and notched the club's only World Series victory.

Lewis has had inconsistent command as he's thrown the second-most innings on the team. The club will monitor him and could utilize some off days to get him a few extra days off. But there are no plans to skip his start. Lewis has the experience to figure things out, and the club hopes that's what happens in the weeks leading into October.

Washington isn't showing any outer signs of concern. He knows his job, and that of pitching coach Mike Maddux, is to manage the arms as best he can so the club can get the maximum out of them as the playoffs close in.

Harrison is confident the rotation that was so impressive earlier this season will fit back into place soon.

"It's a matter of us getting back in a groove and where we were a month ago with everyone throwing the ball consistently," Harrison said. "We have to execute our pitches. That's the biggest thing. The rest did me good. I'm sure it will do Ogando good.

"It's the point in the year where everyone is feeling aches and pains all over and it's mental stuff too."

With Ogando in the bullpen to take his rest Monday, Scott Feldman was asked to spot start against the Rays for the second time in a week. Things didn't go as well as they did last week. Feldman walked four, including three in the fourth inning, and left trailing 4-0 after five innings.

"It was disappointing," Feldman said. "I was just out of the zone with just about everything."

The same could be said for Ogando and Lewis lately and Harrison before his day off. It's why the Rangers want to be sure they do all they can to rekindle the rotation that was consistently giving them quality starts while the bullpen was a work in progress.

Now that the bullpen has more ammunition, thanks to some trades, the Rangers don't actually need as much from their starters as they did the first four months. But they need more than they have been getting the past few weeks.

The Rangers don't have to name a postseason rotation right now. There's still time to sort out who would start after Wilson in Game 1.

"We'll get it figured out," Washington said. "We have to be patient with these guys and help them push through this. They'll find a way."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.