Joe Saunders wants to start, not relieve

FRISCO, Texas -- When Texas Rangers pitcher Joe Saunders returns to the big leagues, he wants to start.

The 32-year-old veteran, who completed a four-inning, 66-pitch rehab start Tuesday afternoon with Double-A Frisco, isn’t interested in a long relief job.

“For me it’s all about starting and helping this team win games as a starter,” said Saunders, who suffered a stress fracture in his left ankle in Tampa Bay in April when he was hit by line drive off the bat of Evan Longoria. “It’s what I signed to do and what they signed me to do.”

It’s up to the club where Saunders fits in once he returns and it’s unclear whether there’s a spot for Saunders in the rotation, which currently houses Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis and Robbie Ross. Right now, Nick Martinez in the long reliever, but the club would rather him get starts every five days in the minors to continue to build his arm strength and developmental progression.

Saunders was pleased with his outing, though he said he was hoping to pitch five or six innings with the 70-pitch limit he was on. His fastball velocity touched 92 and was in the low 90s for much of the outing, which is where he wanted it. He gave up three runs (two of them earned) on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts. He gave up back-to-back home runs in the fourth to Double-A Midland (Oakland A’s affiliate) batters Josh Whitaker and Chad Oberacker. He left with a 9-3 lead.

Saunders gave up five runs (four earned) on six hits in 3 2/3 innings April 4 in Tampa in that lone start for the Rangers. He was signed March 5 to help the club with starting pitching depth and struggled in spring training as he built up his arm strength.