Ponson hopeful of comeback in Texas

Ponson hopeful of comback in Texas

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers designated hitter Frank Catalanotto keeps an actual book on all the pitchers he has ever faced, and he has an extensive file on right-hander Sidney Ponson.

"We faced each other a lot," Catalanotto said. "He's a competitor; every at-bat was a grind. I'd get deep into counts and he would throw all his pitches. He'd mix in a sinker, cutter, changeup, splitter, curveball. He has every single pitch possible and he doesn't give in. We went back and forth and had some battles. I had some good at-bats off him but it was a grind."

Catalanotto is hitting .333 (13-for-39) off Ponson, who joined the Rangers on Monday afternoon after agreeing to a Minor League contract. Michael Young is also hitting .333 (9-for-27) off him, but also recalls Ponson the same way as Catalanotto.

"I remember him being a tough at-bat and a really good competitor," Young said. "That's what he was known for around the league. He always took the ball and was really tough on the mound. It was always a competitive at-bat."

The Rangers are hoping Ponson, 31, still has that in him. Ponson believes he does, even though his career has been in decline since he was a 17-game winner for the Orioles and Giants in 2003. He pitched three games in the Dominican Winter League with a 1.23 ERA and threw a couple of times for the Rangers over the past few months. They were among the teams that scouted him last week in Florida.

He comes to camp competing for a job as the fifth starter. Brandon McCarthy is down with severe inflammation in his right elbow, and is being sent for a second MRI. Ponson joins the list of candidates that also includes right-hander Luis Mendoza, the leading in-house candidate.

Ponson threw a bullpen session on Monday, but the Rangers aren't sure when he'll be ready to pitch in a game.

"I'm ready to pitch," Ponson said. "I've pitched in the Dominican Winter League and I've thrown a lot of bullpens. My arm strength is getting better; I just need to face a few hitters and see where I'm at."

The Rangers have plenty of time to find out. Ponson could start the season at Triple-A Oklahoma but has a clause in his contract that states he can take his free agency on May 1 if he's not called up to the big leagues. Ponson was non-committal on that possibility.

"We'll see what happens," Ponson said. "You never know what will happen. I can't say this or that. I'll go out and do my best."

His best was in 2003, when he was 17-12 with a 3.75 ERA in 31 games. He started that year with the Orioles, and then was traded to the Giants on July 31.

After re-signing with the Orioles as a free agent, he went 11-15 with a 5.30 ERA in 2004, and then 7-11 with a 6.21 ERA in 2005. He spent the next two years with the Cardinals, Yankees and Twins, going 6-10 with a 6.46 ERA. The Twins released him on May 22 last year after a 2-5 record and a 6.93 ERA, and he hasn't pitched in the United States since.

Off-field problems have not helped. Ponson is a native of Aruba, the island in the Caribbean that is part of the kingdom of the Netherlands, and Queen Beatrix gave him knighthood after the 2003 season. But he was arrested for assault in his native land the following year and in 2005 he was arrested twice for driving under the influence. He has since gone through alcohol rehabilitation.

"It's in the past," Ponson said. "I've gone two years without getting into trouble. I was released by the Minnesota Twins and you didn't hear anything about me the rest of the year. That was a good thing.

"I was young and stupid. I thought I was Superman. Now I'm 31 and grown up. I know right from wrong and can go forward. I just want a chance to pitch in the big leagues and go from there."

The Rangers give him that chance. He has teammates who remember that this might be a good thing.

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