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Rangers' Griffin set to return to MLB mound

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A.J. Griffin has not pitched in a Major League game since 2013, so it makes sense that the Rangers are taking their time with the right-hander.

But that time is coming to a close.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A.J. Griffin has not pitched in a Major League game since 2013, so it makes sense that the Rangers are taking their time with the right-hander.

But that time is coming to a close.

Griffin will pitch one inning of the Rangers' Cactus League game against the Mariners at Surprise Stadium on Sunday afternoon (1:05 p.m. MT) in his first official appearance of the spring, and in a Texas uniform, after gearing up with a simulated-game appearance on Thursday.

• Spring: Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | NRIs

Griffin, who won 14 games for the Oakland A's in 2013, missed all of 2014 with Tommy John elbow surgery and most of 2015 with shoulder surgery. The 28-year-old pitched in only four Minor League games last year and was signed by Texas to a Minor League deal in December.

Now the Rangers hope Griffin might show enough this spring to possibly challenge for the role of fifth starter behind Cole Hamels, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Colby Lewis. That slot figures to be open at least until Yu Darvish returns from Tommy John surgery, which could happen as soon as mid-May.

"[Griffin] made progress," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said of the Thursday outing. "I know that they had him throw off the mound. The words of [pitching coach] Doug Brocail were 'Encouraging, impressive.'"

So Griffin will start a progression that the Rangers hope will see him iron out some understandably inconsistent mechanics, but first they have to see something a lot simpler than that.

"I'm looking for him to get through it and how he responds the next day," Banister said. "[With] a guy like Griffin, [the outlook is] 'Hey, come back, make sure you get through it, compete at the level you can compete at, and the health is important after the fact.' Once we can check off that list of things, we can progress and get to the next list of things."

Martinez impresses

Righty Nick Martinez made the Rangers' Opening Day rotation in 2014 when Darvish had a minor injury, and he ended up making 24 starts. Martinez earned his way into the staff out of camp in 2015 and made 21 more.

This year, he's in the middle of a crowded group of contenders for the fifth spot, including Jeremy Guthrie, Nick Tepesch, Chi Chi Gonzalez and possibly Griffin, so it's imperative for him to impress early and often.

That goal was met on Saturday, at least, with Martinez shutting out the Giants for two innings and giving up one hit in his 2016 Cactus League debut.

"Nick was sharp with the fastball, good life on the fastball," Banister said. "His secondary stuff was a little sharper today."

Martinez agreed, saying his fastball command was where he needed it to be on both sides of the plate and he had good run on his sinker and that he's not taking any chances with easing into the spring.

"I've got a spot to earn," Martinez said. "So I've got to come in here ready to go. … I've got to compete. There are plenty of other starters we've got in the clubhouse that can do the job and want to get the job done, so I really can't take my foot off the gas."

Worth noting

• Guthrie, who had not pitched this spring because of lower back stiffness, threw a bullpen session Saturday morning in Surprise. If he comes out of it in good health, the team will look to slot him into a Cactus League game early next week.

• Right fielder Nomar Mazara continued his hot spring Saturday by going 1-for-3 against the Giants with his fifth Cactus League RBI of the spring. Mazara, who came into the game 5-for-6 with a homer, actually saw his batting average plummet all the way down to .667.

Ian Desmond hasn't been with the Rangers long but is already on the board with a great quote. Desmond, normally a shortstop, played left field for the first time Friday and didn't get any chances in the outfield. He did, however, watch a long Scott Van Slyke home run sail over his head. Banister said Desmond told him after the game, "If it had been about 12 feet lower, [I] would have caught it."

• The Rangers announced that Lewis will start Monday's game against the Giants at Surprise Stadium, and that Holland will take the ball Tuesday at Oakland.

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.

Texas Rangers, A.J. Griffin