Notes: Pitchers must get in the zone

Notes: Pitchers must get in the zone

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers pitchers walked six and hit a batter in a 5-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Saturday. They walked seven in Friday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Rangers manager Ron Washington made his feelings clear on the subject.

"That's 14 batters who reached base without swinging the bat," Washington said. "That's not good. Every pitcher with talent who toes the rubber should be able to throw the ball in the strike zone."

The Rangers are now walking a Major League-leading 4.54 batters per nine innings and Washington is not happy about it, not when he has been preaching pounding the strike zone all spring.

"That doesn't sit well," Washington said. "We have to get better. It will get better. We're probably just getting it out of our system. It's about getting outs. If you don't start working on getting outs now, when are you going to do that."

Washington considered having a meeting with all his pitchers to discuss their high pitch counts but did not want to put any undue pressure on them. But Brandon McCarthy threw 71 pitches in 2 1/3 innings, allowing five runs on six hits and three walks.

"He's better than that," Washington said. "He's got better stuff than that."

McCarthy grumbled a little bit about home plate umpire Brian Knight's strike zone and used the word "ridiculous." But Washington said, "Maybe the umpire did miss some pitches. But if the umpire misses a pitch, you make another one."

McCarthy was left with a 10.45 ERA with just one start left in the spring. He pitches against the Kansas City Royals on Thursday in the Rangers final game of Spring Training.

"I need to pitch some quality innings," McCarthy said. "A series of them and not go 3-2 on every batter. I need to get ahead in the count, make contact and move through the lineup."

Hairston beating out Byrd: Jerry Hairston is starting in center field for the Rangers on Sunday when they play the Chicago White Sox at Tucson Electric Park.

He could get more starts out there during the regular season as Kenny Lofton's right-handed backup. The possibility of Marlon Byrd breaking camp as one of the Rangers backup outfielders is growing dim.

Byrd is hitting .306 this spring but his defense has not been good. That's why the Rangers have talked to other clubs about outfielders -- most notably San Francisco's Jason Ellison -- and why they are looking hard at carrying multiple utility infielders.

"Marlon is still in the running for one of the two spots on the bench," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "But there are a number of guys who have been impressive in camp. We've talked to a couple of clubs but we expect to fulfill it from within."

Matt Kata is one of them. A left-handed batter, he is hitting .447 for the spring and can play multiple positions in both the infield and the outfield. Hairston, a right-handed hitter who is hitting .421 this spring, can also play multiple positions.

Hairston, taking over for Lofton, made a terrific running catch in the right-center-field gap in the fourth inning to take away an extra-basehit away from Marco Scutaro.

Asked about Hairston's defense in center, Washington said, "He looks awesome. I was told he can play there and he hasn't proven me wrong."

Last bullpen spot: If Kameron Loe makes the team as the long reliever, that will leave one spot in the bullpen. The two candidates are hard-throwing right-hander Frank Francisco and sidearming right-hander Scott Feldman. Wes Littleton appears to need more time in the Minor Leagues.

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The Rangers would love to have Francisco in the bullpen if he can pitch with the same power that made him a valuable setup reliever in 2004. He was the Rangers Rookie of the Year that season when he went 5-1 with a 3.33 ERA in 45 games. He struck out 60 in 51 1/3 innings but that was before missing almost all of two seasons because of Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

"He showed the ability in '04 to be able to pitch at the back end of the game and really shorten it," Daniels said. "I'd like to think he could be that guy again. He's getting better but he's not there yet."

Francisco is 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA this spring, but with six walks in 7 1/3 innings.

"I think he's very close," Washington said. "He just has to get consistent with his [split-fingered fastball] and his breaking ball. He throws some good ones and leaves some up. But he's showed some good pop on fastballs down in the zone."

He said it: "My first trip to Tucson. Ever. So people can stop hating for me for not having been there."--pitcher C.J. Wilson

Briefly: Andy Fox, the former Major League infielder who was manager of Class A Spokane, has been hired by the Florida Marlins as their first-base coach. He replaces Perry Hill, the former Rangers coach, who retired Friday. ...Mike Wood pitched three more scoreless innings on Saturday and has a 1.69 ERA for the spring.

Up next: Loe pitches for the Rangers against the Chicago White Sox at 3:05 p.m. CT Sunday at Tucson Electric Park. Wilson is also scheduled to pitch. Mark Buehrle pitches for the White Sox.

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