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Jennings close to where he wants to be

Jennings close to where he wants to be

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Rangers right-hander Jason Jennings starts against the Royals on Sunday, it will be his first time facing opposing hitters since Aug. 20.

In that start, Jennings gave up six runs on seven hits, including two home runs, in four innings in the Astros' loss to the Nationals. On Aug. 30, Jennings underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn right elbow flexor tendon.

"It will be good to get out there and get going again and just keep building and keep getting stronger and get ready for April," Jennings said Saturday. "Barring any setbacks, which I don't anticipate, I should be ready to go."

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Jennings is a local product, a graduate of Mesquite Poteet High School, and went to Baylor, where he was the 1999 national college player of the year. He was a first-round pick of the Rockies after his junior season. He is the only player in Major League history to throw a complete-game shutout and hit a home run in his debut, Aug. 23, 2001, against the Mets. In 2002, he won 16 games for the Rockies and was named the National League Rookie of the Year.

The Rockies traded him to the Astros after the 2006 season, but because of arm problems, he was 2-9 with a 6.45 ERA in 19 games, 18 of them starts, while throwing only 99 innings.

"I didn't get to show the fans of Houston the pitcher I believe I can be," Jennings said. "I didn't live up to my expectations down there last year. I just want to show people the pitcher I had been the five years I was in Colorado is the guy who goes out and gives you six, seven, eight innings. I think wins and losses are kind of out of my control, but as far as quality starts and just keeping us in the game and giving us a chance to win all my starts, I'm definitely in control of that."

The Rangers signed Jennings to a one-year contract in January. Rangers starters compiled a 42-65 record with a 5.50 ERA last season. A healthy Jennings would be a boost to the rotation.

"It would mean a lot, especially with his experience and the type of innings that he'd eat up during the course of the year," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.

Jennings made at least 32 starts and tossed more than 180 innings in four of his five years with the Rockies. The only exception was 2005, when he fractured his right middle finger while sliding on July 20 at Washington.

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"I know he's coming off an arm injury," Washington said. "Every day we've seen him throw he's got better and better with his sinker, and it has more life on it. The key is just to keep him healthy. If we keep him healthy, I think this guy will keep us in ballgames, which is important in the starting rotation, because if we get good starting pitching, I like our chances."

Jennings would fit into to the middle of a Rangers rotation with Kevin Milwood, Vicente Padilla, Brandon McCarthy and Kason Gabbard.

"I'm really approaching this season as a fresh start for me," Jennings said. "I battled arm injures last year and didn't put up the numbers I'd like to. I got the opportunity to come here and play at home. It's a team I think that is up-and-coming, on the rise, and hopefully I can be a part of that."

Jennings said his arm "feels good."

"It's going to take a little bit for it to get in shape and get it mechanically and physically where I want to be, but as far as the surgery goes and the rehab, it's going very well," he said. "They said it had probably been building for two or three years and it just finally caught up with me last year. It was really giving me problems. It just wasn't allowing me to do what I need to do on the mound to be successful. It was just time for me to take care of it and get it repaired. The surgery went well and everything in the rehab has gone well so far."

Washington said coming back from a surgical procedure can be more mental than physical.

"The mind plays tricks on you," he said. "He has to free his mind up to let his arm work the way he knows it is capable of working. I think every time he's touched the rubber to throw a bullpen, you can see his arm getting freer and freer, which means the mind is relaxing more.

"I believe there will be one day down here this spring when he's going to finally let it go and he's going to realize he's OK. And that's when we're going to see that turbo sinker that he has. He gets a lot of ground balls."

Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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