Rangers' fifth starter still up for grabs

Rangers' fifth starter still up for grabs

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Rangers starter Luis Mendoza retired the first 10 Rockies he faced on a warm Friday afternoon at Hi Corbett Field.

He was then unable to retire another batter the rest of the time he was on the mound. Instead, after retiring the first hitter in the fourth inning, he allowed seven straight hitters to reach base on five hits, a walk and a hit batsman.

Before the fourth inning was over, the Rockies had scored five runs, Mendoza was kicking himself for not mixing up his pitches and the Rangers' fifth starter competition is still undecided after Friday's game ended in a 10-inning, 6-6 tie.

"I want this job," Mendoza said. "I feel disappointed about the last inning. I want to show them I can pitch."

Mendoza relied on his sinking fastball to roll through the Rockies lineup for the first three innings. But that wasn't good enough the second time through the order.

"I got tired a little bit and the game started moving too fast," Mendoza said. "I made mental mistakes. The last inning I didn't mix my pitches in ... too many fastballs."

He may be going through the same thing that Kameron Loe did as a starter. An above-average sinker is nice, but a good secondary pitch is needed to go with it. Kevin Brown had the best sinker of any Rangers pitcher ever, but also had a mean hard slider to go with it.

Manager Ron Washington thought Mendoza's sinker remained effective through the fourth inning, but he was just up high with his secondary pitches.

"When he kept the ball down, he had some success," Washington said. "When his sinker is where it should be, his secondary pitches just need to be in the strike zone. Just get ahead of the hitter and come back with your best stuff."

Mendoza went into the game as the leading internal candidate to replace Brandon McCarthy in the rotation. McCarthy was supposed to be the No. 4 starter, but he is sidelined for 4-8 weeks with severe elbow inflammation. Kason Gabbard moves into the fourth spot and the Rangers seek one more.

Mendoza is very much still in the mix even after what happened in the fourth inning.

"This was his first bad outing, if you want to call it a bad outing," Washington said. "It was one bad inning. We'll give him the ball again and see what happens out there. We're not going to go crazy after just one inning."

But the Rangers are also going to keep taking a hard look at Sidney Ponson, the veteran right-hander who was signed earlier this week and threw two impressive scoreless innings in his debut against the Cubs on Thursday. Pitching coach Mark Connor said Ponson was better than he expected.

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"He was pretty good," Connor said. "He threw quality pitches for two innings. He threw 17 pitches and 14 or 15 were solid quality pitches. He changed speeds and his sinker was hard and late. It was really a pleasant surprise for me."

Eric Hurley is also still in the running and he may start on Saturday against the Rockies in Surprise. Kevin Millwood is scheduled for that day, but the Rangers may have him start in a Triple-A game instead just to make sure there are no problems with his hamstring.

Millwood, who had a productive bullpen session on Thursday, will go through some fielding drills on Friday before the Rangers make a decision.

The Rangers have extra time in deciding on a fifth starter. They have two off-days in the first two weeks of the season so they won't need a fifth starter until April 12.

Whoever is the fifth starter will likely start the season at Triple-A Oklahoma and make two starts there before being brought to the Major Leagues. That would allow the Rangers to carry an eighth reliever or a fifth bench player for the first 10 games of the season.

Washington wouldn't mind an extra bench player, but the fragile state of the Rangers' pitching staff may require an extra reliever.

"We have to make sure we're covered pitching-wise," Washington said.

That includes the rotation as well as the bullpen.

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