Notes: Fifth-starter competition fierce

Notes: Fifth-starter competition fierce

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Round One is over. Now the competition for the vacancy in the Rangers' rotation can really begin.

Call it Six For Five. And the battle among the half-dozen pitchers vying for the open No. 5 spot has heated up way before the desert climate.

"The competition starts for real after their first time out. That's when we start judging them," Rangers manager Ron Washington was saying prior to Tuesday afternoon's exhibition against Seattle.

A little later then, Jamey Wright raised the gate on this derby with the last pitch of his two-inning start. Everyone has had one exposure now, and it has only made Washington eager for more.

Wright allowed a hit and two runs, both unearned, reflecting the uncommon sharpness of most of his competitors.

Among them, Bruce Chen, Kameron Loe, Josh Rupe, Edinson Volquez and Wright have combined for 10 2/3 innings, four hits and zero earned runs.

The only bump in that road has been lefty John Koronka, who was reeled for six runs in 1 1/3 innings of his debut and gets his rebuttal shot in Wednesday afternoon's game against Arizona.

Washington and pitching coach Mark Connor have pumped up the pitchers' confidence in their stuff, and all have responded as hoped. The staff has been pounding the strike zone -- Texas entered Tuesday's schedule with the fewest walks among American League clubs -- and the rotation candidates have mirrored that with three walks among them.

"They have the ability to do what they've been doing," Washington reaffirmed after the misleading 10-3 loss to the Mariners. "They have the stuff to not run away from the strike zone."

Wright, a 32-year-old right-hander, is typical of the six. He has tasted some success during his career and aims to take it to the next level by trying to join Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Robinson Tejeda and Brandon McCarthy in the Texas rotation.

"I was excited to get out there and do the job," said Wright, who thus brought up the rear of the contenders' rotation. "I can't worry about what everyone else is doing. The only thing I can control is when I have the ball in my hand.

"There's a lot of talent in this camp, something the Rangers should be excited about. Everyone is up for the challenge."

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A's on the horizon: No, Washington hasn't allowed himself to imagine what Thursday will feel like. Yes, he is acutely aware that his Rangers will be busing to Phoenix for their first Cactus League get-together with Oakland.

This isn't about a first look at the defending AL West champs, but about reuniting with players mentored by Washington during his long tenure as an A's coach.

"Thursday morning it might hit me," Washington said, "but I'm a day-at-a-time guy. I'm just trying to get through today."

Miked up: The voice of the Rangers, Eric Nadel, on Monday was chosen top play-by-play man of 2006-07 by the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters, an honor that encompasses all sports. This is a new distinction, but honors are nothing novel for Nadel, who during the offseason garnered a fourth selection as National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Texas Sportscaster of the Year.

He said: "All yesterday, I was thinking, 'I hope I don't have to pitch to Ichiro,'" -- Akinori Otsuka, confessing not because Ichiro Suzuki has gotten some big hits off him in the past, but because he didn't look forward to being asked about it by waves of Japanese reporters

Between the lines: Otsuka did face Ichiro and retired him on a grounder to third. He completed a sharp three-up, three-down inning by returning to his old mechanics after some intentional experimenting had gotten him into a funk during a three-hit inning Saturday against the Royals. ... Otsuka departed immediately after his third-inning outing to go to San Diego for some dental work and will return Wednesday night. ... Left-hander John Rheinecker, waylaid by back spasms, threw a succesful bullpen. "He made it through, and we'll see how he feels," Washington said. ... Sammy Sosa went 1-for-3 -- a crisp single in the sixth -- as the DH and is slated to make his second outfield start in Wednesday's main game against the D-backs.

Coming up: Kevin Millwood will try to bring his "A" game in a morning "B"-game start against the Mariners. In the afternoon Surprise Stadium featured attraction, Koronka goes against Arizona.

Tom Singer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.