Joe Ortiz, Tanner Scheppers earn bullpen spots

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Joe Ortiz and Tanner Scheppers will open the season in the Rangers' bullpen, a decision manager Ron Washington conveyed to both pitchers before Thursday's exhibition game against the Mexico City Rojas Diablos.

For the 22-year-old Ortiz, who came out of nowhere this spring to make the club, it was an emotional moment.

"If we had kept him in that room a little longer, he might have started crying," Washington said of the moments immediately after Ortiz learned he had made the team.

Washington admits he knew nothing about Ortiz going into the spring, only what scouts and minor league coaches told him. Ortiz has allowed one run in 11 innings. He has 11 strikeouts and only one walk.

"He got outs," Washington said. "He got outs by attacking. He wasn't afraid of the strike zone. He wasn't afraid of the hitters that walked up."

Ortiz makes it two years in a row that a shorter-than-6-foot left-handed reliever has surprised everyone by making the Opening Day roster. Last season it was Robbie Ross, who also is back in the bullpen. This year it is Ortiz, who admitted to getting misty-eyed when Washington broke the news to him.

"There were some tears in my eyes when he told me the news," Ortiz said. "No one expected this, especially here in Arlington. It's special news for me. My father was especially waiting for this day. He is happy for me."

Scheppers, who appeared in 39 games last season for the Rangers, came on strong at the end of the spring after dealing with a tight right hamstring early in camp. Scheppers didn't allow a run in his final five spring outings.

"When it mattered, he showed up," Washington said. "He earned his way on, too."

Scheppers, who fought inconsistency last season, is the Rangers' power arm out of the bullpen. With what is basically a new bullpen with no roles defined yet -- Washington made it clear Thursday that no one has been "anointed to a bullpen role" -- Scheppers has a chance to pitch his way into a late-inning spot.

"God blessed me with a power arm," Scheppers said. "I have to get outs. The roles will be defined as the year goes on."

Other team notes:

  • Washington said he will decide by Saturday who will start in center field in Sunday's opener against Houston with Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin exceeding expectations this spring.

    Houston is starting right-hander Bud Norris in the opener, so the start points in the left-handed hitting Martin's direction. But Gentry has more experience, having played in 121 games last season. Gentry also started Thursday's exhibition game against Mexico City against right-handed starter David Reyes.

    "There's no clear-cut guy," Washington said. "Both guys have shown improvement. Both guys have showed they can help us win ballgames."

  • The final roster spot will come down to outfielder Julio Borbon and relievers Josh Lindblom and Cory Burns. The decision will come down to whether the Rangers go with seven or eight relievers to start the season.

  • Left-hander Brad Mills cleared waivers Thursday and was assigned to Triple-A Round Rock. That gives the Rangers 38 players on the 40-man roster, clearing spots for infielder Jeff Baker and veteran pitcher Derek Lowe, both of whom have made the team.

  • Catcher Eli Whiteside has temporarily left the team to attend to a family matter and will miss Thursday's game.

  • The Rangers' players made March Madness a part of their Thursday with the South Regional taking place in Arlington. Pitchers Derek Lowe, who is from Dearborn, Mich., and Derek Holland, from Newark, Ohio, went to Michigan's practice. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who went to high school in Orlando, Fla., attended Florida's practice.