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Wright ready for role in bullpen

Wright ready for role in Rangers' bullpen

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Jamey Wright has done what the Rangers hoped Robinson Tejeda and Kameron Loe would do. He has made a seamless transition from starter to reliever and has quietly won a spot in the Rangers' bullpen.

The veteran right-hander, who had a 2.05 in 11 relief appearances last year, will be the Rangers' long reliever after spending all or parts of 12 Major League seasons as a starter. At age 33, his career is looking at a possible rebirth in the bullpen after 246 Major League starts.

He was 69-101 as a starter with a 5.13 ERA -- the second highest among active starters with at least 1,000 innings pitched in that role. He has also run out of chances to fit into somebody's rotation. He seems to realize he needs to make the best of this relief opportunity.

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"It's exciting coming to the ballpark knowing that I could pitch every day rather than sitting around for four days thinking about what I'm doing," Wright said. "Now the phone rings, I get ready and then go out and compete."

The same theory worked for Joaquin Benoit, who spent his first five seasons with the Rangers bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen. In 2006 the Rangers finally decided to keep Benoit in the bullpen and he has developed into one of the top setup relievers in the game.

Benoit, who has a career 6.06 ERA as a starter and a 3.48 ERA as reliever, had the same reputation as Wright. He too seemed to fret and worry too much between starts and seems much more suited to pitching on the spur of the moment. Wright seemed to be the same way last year and his 2.05 ERA in relief was the 15th lowest among relievers with at least 10 appearances and 30 innings.

"I'm just trying to get acclimated to my role, try to learn how to do it and how to do it better," Wright said. "The first year, going from a starter to a reliever, was different as far as throwing. Being in a starter for the last 13 years, this was different, but it's a nice change."

The Rangers were hoping that Tejeda and Loe would be able to make a similar transition from starter to reliever this spring. They were told at the outset they would be used strictly in relief this spring.

Loe, who has struggled with his sinker, has a 6.94 ERA this spring and opponents are hitting .298 off him; Tejeda has a 6.97 ERA. Loe will likely start the season at Triple-A Oklahoma, but Tejeda will likely make the Rangers.

The difference is Loe has options and Tejeda does not. Tejeda would have to clear waivers before being sent to the Minors and the Rangers fear he would be snatched by another team. The Rangers don't want to lose a guy who turns 26 on Monday and is one of the hardest throwers on the team.

They do want Tejeda to adjust to the bullpen and be able to throw multiple innings. The Rangers have enough one-inning relievers, manager Ron Washington said they need at least one more reliever beside Wright who can pitch 2-3 innings at a time.

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Tejeda has proved effective in one-inning stints, but the Rangers still aren't sure if he can coming in blazing for two innings or more. He has pitched multiple innings in three games this spring, pitching two scoreless innings in one outing against the Giants while allowing two runs in each of the other two appearances.

"If he could throw his stuff over the plate, he could be something special," Washington said. "That's all he has to do for two innings is come in and shut it down. When he comes out of the bullpen, he's got to have it in his mind-set that this is do or die."

Loe has been an effective Major League reliever in the past with a 4.15 career ERA in that role. But he has not had the kind of spring the Rangers expected of him, and he has fallen behind Franklyn German and Wes Littleton in the competition for one of the last spots in the bullpen. Loe has openly harbored hopes of getting back into the rotation and that may have impacted his performance this spring.

"It seems to have affected him this year," Washington said. "He's a veteran, he'll figure it out."

Benoit and Wright did so, and are better for it. Benoit was 1-1 with a 4.86 ERA in 56 appearances as a middle reliever in 2006, then turned into the Rangers most effective pitcher in '07. He moved up to a prime-time setup spot and was 7-4 with a 2.85 EA and six saves, and was the Rangers Pitcher of the Year.

Wright will basically be in the role that Benoit served in 2006. He wouldn't mind following Benoit's path and eventually move into a more prominent spot in the bullpen.

"Obviously, I think I could do anything," Wright said. "I think I have the stuff to close, setup, any number of situations. I'm just happy to be a part of it in any role and do what I'm asked to do."

The Rangers were hoping others would take note of Wright's transition and do the same.

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

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