Rangers retain Lewis on one-year contract

Left-hander Kirkman also signs Minors deal for 2015

Rangers retain Lewis on one-year contract

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers reached an agreement Thursday with free-agent pitcher Colby Lewis on a one-year contract worth $4 million. Although nothing is guaranteed, Lewis becomes a leading candidate to be one of the Rangers' five starters going into Opening Day.

"We're glad to have Colby back," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "Really, over the last five years, he has been everything we are about. He throws strikes, eats innings and takes the ball. He's the type of pitcher our young guys can look up to."

Being a free agent allowed Lewis to test the market, but he said it wasn't a serious effort.

"My heart was always set on being back in Texas," Lewis said. "That's why it didn't go on very long."

Texas' rotation right now is headed by right-hander Yu Darvish and left-hander Derek Holland. The Rangers' internal candidates include Nick Tepesch, Nick Martinez, Lisalverto Bonilla and 2013 first-round Draft pick Alex Gonzalez. The Rangers will try to add one more starter from the outside, either by trade or free agency.

"We talked at the end of the season about having three spots up in the air in the rotation," Daniels said. "Our goal is to go into Spring Training with one spot up for competition. It's a comfortable feeling having Colby locked up."

Lewis, 35, made 29 starts for the Rangers after missing 18 months because of flexor tendon and hip replacement surgery. He finished 10-14 with a 5.18 ERA while leading the team in starts and innings pitched. He was 4-8 with a 3.86 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break.

Lewis said he was healthy for the full season but it took him at least through the first half to work out his mechanics. Once he did that, Lewis started pitching the way he had prior to his surgeries. Now he has a full offseason to prepare normally rather than going through a rehabilitation program.

"I feel like I will be in position to be like I was in the past and eat up 200 innings," Lewis said. "I just want to be a contributor, eat innings and put the team in position to have a win at the end of the game."

Lewis was the Rangers' top pick in the 1999 Draft, but his career suffered a major setback after he was claimed off waivers by the Tigers in 2004 and then missed the entire following season because of a torn rotator cuff.

But Lewis revived his career with two outstanding seasons in Japan in 2008-09, and then was signed as a free agent by the Rangers. It proved to be one of the best moves the Rangers made on their way to two straight World Series appearances in '10-11.

From '10-12, Lewis was 32-29 with a 3.93 ERA in 80 starts. He also made eight postseason starts, going 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA. He is the Rangers' all-time leader in postseason wins and starts.

But Lewis' career again got sidetracked in 2012. He was 6-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 16 starts before being shut down because of an elbow injury that ultimately led to surgery in July of that year.

Lewis attempted a comeback in 2013, but he was shut down after seven Minor League rehabilitation starts and he decided to have hip resurfacing surgery in August. The operation was designed to alleviate the chronic pain in Lewis' right hip that he was experiencing from the time he had been pitching in Japan.

Lewis reported to Spring Training this year pain-free and he rejoined the Rangers' rotation in April after one start for Triple-A Round Rock. He was 6-6 with a 6.54 ERA at the All-Star break, but a strong second half convinced the Rangers to bring him back for 2015.

"We saw what he could do with a healthy hip," Daniels said.

The Rangers also signed left-hander Michael Kirkman, who was non-tendered on Tuesday, to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

Kirkman, who was out of options, was selected by the Rangers in the fifth round of the 2005 Draft and had the longest tenure with the organization of any player on the 40-man roster. He has played in parts of five seasons for the Rangers, going 2-6 with a 4.98 ERA in 94 career relief appearances.

Kirkman's career had a number of setbacks, including command issues at times. He also went through two battles with skin cancer prior to this past season.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.