Rangers' rotation competition set to heat up

Griffin, Ramos both set to see action Monday against Cleveland

Rangers' rotation competition set to heat up

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Rangers are going with right-hander A.J. Griffin as their starter in Monday's game against the Indians in Goodyear, Ariz.. Griffin has pitched in two Cactus League games, but this will be his first start.

It also comes with three weeks to go before Opening Day. So far, the Rangers' fifth-starter candidates have been building up arm strength and pitch counts. Now they need to start focusing on winning a job.

"We're looking for strikeability, and do they have the stuff that's capable of getting outs?" Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "What is their way of getting outs other than strikeouts? Can they manage innings? The fifth starter needs to manage innings and keep the club in the ballgame, and let our offense go to work. Can they get nicked up and stay in the ballgame, continue to pitch, so our bullpen doesn't get worn down?

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"If they are more than that, great. But more than anything, can you compete? Can you go out there every fifth day and compete?"

Griffin was 21-11 with a 3.60 ERA in 47 starts for the Athletics in 2012-13 before missing almost all of the past two seasons while recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. He also had some shoulder issues last summer during his rehab assignment.

Griffin said coming into camp that he was healthy and ready to compete for a job. He had some early work with pitching coach Doug Brocail to clean up his mechanics, and he was used in relief in his first two appearances. In three innings, he has allowed a home run among his two hits, did not walk a batter and struck out four. The Rangers are still monitoring Griffin's health.

"I think that's an ongoing process," Banister said. "He's here and he's pitching, and he seems to be up to speed, as far as his body. He's not had a setback. We'll continue to move in that direction. There is still time to compete for that spot."

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The competition remains fierce. Chi Chi Gonzalez, Nick Martinez and Nick Tepesch have all had a spot in the Rangers' rotation at various points in the past three years. Anthony Ranaudo and Phil Klein were spot starters for the Rangers last season, but appear to be at the back of the pack at this point.

Jeremy Guthrie could be the safe bet. He is in camp on a Minor League contract and could opt for free agency on March 28 if he doesn't make the team. Guthrie is a known quantity, a 12-year veteran who was 41-34 with a 4.38 ERA in 103 starts and six relief appearances for the Royals over the past 3 1/2 years. He also is durable, having been on the disabled list just twice -- both times for less than a month -- in nine full seasons.

Putting Guthrie or Griffin in the rotation would allow the Rangers to have Gonzalez, Martinez, Tepesch, Klein and Ranaudo open the season at Triple-A and continue their development.

The darkhorse candidate is Cesar Ramos, another veteran non-roster invitee and the only left-hander in the competition. Ramos has been used almost exclusively as a reliever in his seven-year career, but the Rangers are giving him a chance to start this spring. So far, Ramos has been quietly effective. He has allowed three hits, including a home run, in his five innings, with no walks and five strikeouts.

"He is a veteran presence with pitchability," Banister said.

Ramos is scheduled to follow Griffin to the mound on Monday, and they are slated for three to four innings each. The fifth-starter competition is beginning to heat up.

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