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Martin on mend, new faces in setup role

MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

HOUSTON -- Rangers reliever Chris Martin has had two good bullpen sessions this week and could be close to coming off the disabled list. But, the Rangers still plan on sending him out on a medical rehabilitation assignment before he returns.

"[Friday] was really good," pitching coach Doug Brocail said. "We still want to send him out and make sure everything is fine and he recovers well. If he recovers all right, then we'll move forward."

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HOUSTON -- Rangers reliever Chris Martin has had two good bullpen sessions this week and could be close to coming off the disabled list. But, the Rangers still plan on sending him out on a medical rehabilitation assignment before he returns.

"[Friday] was really good," pitching coach Doug Brocail said. "We still want to send him out and make sure everything is fine and he recovers well. If he recovers all right, then we'll move forward."

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Martin has been out since April 30 with irritation in his right forearm. He had a 2.70 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in his 15 outings before giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Indians on April 30. He had moved into the role of the Rangers' primary right-handed setup reliever.

Jose Leclerc has taken over that spot, as evidenced by Friday night against the Astros. The Rangers led 1-0 into the bottom of the eighth, but when Jake Diekman walked Josh Reddick to open the inning, manager Jeff Banister summoned Leclerc into the game. Leclerc retired all three hitters he faced before Keone Kela took over in the ninth.

Leclerc now has a 2.03 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in 12 appearances, striking out 18 and walking six in 13 1/3 innings. Banister said Leclerc's experience is starting to take over.

"Part of it is asking him to do it so many times, he understands it well," Banister said. "Experience, whether it is positive or negative, he has the ability to learn from both. He is able to slow it down when things get sideways."

Leclerc has allowed just one of 13 inherited baserunners to score, which reinforces Banister's confidence in bring him into games with runners on base.

"I feel more confident," Leclerc said. "Last year in situations like [Friday] night, I'd get nervous. I didn't know what to do or how to do it. [Friday] I didn't get nervous, I just got a little excited."

Video: TEX@CLE: Leclerc strikes out Zimmer to escape a jam

Leclerc is filling the role originally envisioned for right-hander Matt Bush. He was sent to Triple-A Round Rock on April 25 with a 3.97 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. Since going down, he has pitched six innings over five appearances, allowing two runs on six hits and four walks while striking out eight.

"He has thrown the ball better," Banister said. "A little more consistent secondary stuff. He's got a few walks, but he's able to throw a slider for a ball and then come back and throw it for a strike. The command of his fastball is better."

The next pitcher up could be right-hander Nick Gardewine. He was optioned on May 3 and has to stay down for at least 10 days, which is set to expire Saturday. Getting Gardewine back would allow the Rangers to option Yohander Mendez back to Triple-A.

Mendez was starting at Round Rock, and that's what the Rangers want him to do. He was called up on May 3 to serve as a long reliever, but the Rangers have yet to pitch him in a game. His last start for Round Rock was on April 28 and Banister said that is getting to be too long.

Rangers beat

• Right-hander Tim Lincecum pitched a scoreless inning for Round Rock on Friday night, allowing a hit and a walk while striking out two. It was his third appearance on his rehab assignment and he is eligible to come off the disabled list on May 28.

• The Rangers, after their 1-0 victory over the Astros on Friday night, have scored 2.79 runs per nine innings when Cole Hamels is on the mound. That is the third-lowest run support average in the American League.

• The Rangers have had four 1-0 victories in franchise history while holding opponents to just one hit. The other three were complete games: Nolan Ryan on April 26, 1990, against the White Sox, Bobby Witt on June 26, 1987, against the Twins and Bert Blyleven on June 21, 1976, against Oakland.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Chris Martin