Notes: Wright adjusting to relief role

Notes: Wright adjusting to relief role

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After making one start last April, Jamey Wright spent the next two months on the disabled list, enduring a 16.88 ERA lingering beside his name as he worked himself back into competitive form.

Wright got better with every month back in uniform, making three starts with a 4.60 ERA in June, posting a 3.13 ERA in four July starts and earning marks of 3.00 and 2.18 in August and September, respectively, making one start in August before seeing the rest of his action out of the Texas bullpen.

Before last season, all but 25 of his 260 games pitched had been as a starter, but he is approaching 2008 with the mind-set of a reliever.

"Last year was different, getting that bullpen role," he said Monday after pitching two scoreless innings of relief in the Rangers' extra-inning win over the Giants. "I finally accepted it and said, 'This is what it's going to be. I want to learn to be good at it. I want to learn to go out there and pitch well in that role.'

"I'm not a guy that wants to just hang around. I want to pitch for a long time. I love to pitch, I love to compete. If this is what it's going to be, out of the bullpen, I need to learn to do it the right way and be successful at it. Last year, I felt a kind of a quiet confidence, knowing that whenever I came into a game, I felt like I was going to do really well. I'm just trying to carry that over to this spring and hopefully the beginning of the season."

Wright has pitched three scoreless Cactus League innings, and manager Ron Washington is already impressed with the transition Wright is making to a full-time relief role.

"He's been excellent," Washington said after Wright's second relief appearance Monday. "Maybe he found what he's good at. He certainly saved us coming out of the bullpen last year, and hopefully he'll just continue it."

While starting pitchers often spend their early starts isolating a particular element of their game to work on, Wright is focused on finding a comfort level out of the 'pen, trading the five-day cycle of the starter for the ready-on-the-fly nature of the reliever.

"I'm practicing coming out of the bullpen," he said, explaining his focus Monday. "The main thing is just trying to find my routine and get consistent with coming out there and feeling the same way every time. And learning how to work quick and get guys out when I feel like I don't have my best stuff."

Strange game: Wright's entrance to the game in the second inning restored a semblance of normalcy after an unusual first inning. Giants starter Noah Lowery faced 10 hitters in the first inning, going through the entire lineup once before the Rangers could record an official at-bat. He walked the first five batters, then alternated two sacrifice flies with two more walks before finally getting an inning-ending fly to right.

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"I think the tone got set early," said Rangers starter A.J. Murray, who pitched one inning and gave up two runs on two hits and two walks, walking in one run himself. "That umpire was tight. I'm not making excuses, but if you wanted a strike called, you had to have it right there."

Blalock backed up: Hank Blalock missed the trip to Scottsdale on Monday, due to soreness in a muscle behind his right shoulder, according to Washington.

"It's nothing serious," Washington said. "He's going to take a day or so and chill out."

Blalock had played in three of the Rangers' first five games, all at third base, and Washington wanted to ease up on him a bit to ensure a smooth spring. He did not expect Blalock to be back on the field Tuesday against the D-backs.

"He'll probably hit [Tuesday]," Washington said. "We got to take it easy with Hank. We want him ready for Opening Day. Just with all the throwing we've been doing, taking infield every day, he's feeling a little soreness. It's probably tightness more than anything else."

All's good for Millwood: Kevin Millwood threw a bullpen session Monday morning in Surprise and is on track as he works himself back from a sore hamstring.

"It was very good, no problem," pitching coach Mark Connor said. "He threw about 35 pitches. It was the second day in a row for that. He's feeling good, and we're on go for a 'sim' game on Wednesday."

If everything goes well with the simulated game, Millwood will take some pitchers' fielding practice and make a Cactus League start Monday against the Padres in Peoria.

McCarthy on track: Brandon McCarthy had a good bullpen session Sunday, according to Washington, and needs one more before getting into Cactus League action.

With Millwood and McCarthy slated as first and fourth in the rotation, the Rangers are eager to get them in the groove. Any additional setbacks could force a re-evaluation of their place in the rotation, but if both pitchers can stay on pace, Washington is not concerned about making the proposed rotation fit.

"We might have to make some adjustments, but it's not going to be that big of an adjustment to get them in order," Washington said. "The only thing we're really concerned about is that they get some innings. When you start to sending kids out, you can always make adjustments. We just want to get them ready on the mound, then we'll figure that out."

Up next: Southpaw Kason Gabbard toes the rubber Tuesday in Surprise, facing Arizona ace Brandon Webb at 2:05 p.m. CT. Josh Hamilton will be back in action in the outfield after a day off Monday, hoping to pick up on Sunday's 3-for-3 DH day.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.