Tommy Hunter has Grade II groin strain

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Starting pitcher Tommy Hunter could miss six weeks with a Grade II right groin strain and will likely start the season on the disabled list, the Texas Rangers announced Friday afternoon.

"I can't do anything about it," Hunter said. "I can't help the team on the disabled list. I want to be there Opening Day and I'm not going to. I just have to get healthy and get back out there. It's tough."

Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said the club would have to meet to determine who ends up in the rotation, with Michael Kirkman and Dave Bush being the leading internal candidates to take Hunter's spot.

Levine said he didn't expect the injury to change the decision to put Neftali Feliz in the bullpen as the closer.

Hunter is scheduled to fly back to Arlington this weekend to have a blood-platelet injection in an effort to speed up his recovery. He said he did some exercises in the pool and didn't think it felt as bad as the groin injury that kept him out a couple of months in 2009.

Hunter, 24, suffered the injury during the third inning of Thursday's game against the Cincinnati Reds. He said he felt something on his third pitch to outfielder Drew Stubbs. After his next pitch, manager Ron Washington, pitching coach Mike Maddux and assistant athletic trainer Kevin Harmon came out to the mound to check on him.

Hunter was taken out of the game after allowing five runs on six hits in two-plus innings.

Just hours before the game, Hunter was named to the rotation along with C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. Kirkman had already been optioned to Triple-A Round Rock (Texas) on Thursday.

Hunter has struggled this spring with a 10.97 ERA. But he earned his rotation spot based on his track record, which included a 13-4 record and a 3.73 ERA in 128 innings last season.

This is the third consecutive spring in which Hunter has had an injury derail his hopes of starting the season on time. He injured his groin in 2009 and was recalled for a spot start in late May and then returned in late June for the final three-plus months of the season.

Last year, he was expected to be in the rotation when an oblique strain late in camp forced him to the disabled list and then to the minors. He came up in June and stayed with the big league club for the duration of 2010 and into the postseason.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.