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Rangers not planning to use 'opener' this year

@Sullivan_Ranger
March 16, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Rangers aren’t planning on using an “opener” with the veteran rotation they expect to have going into the season. Three of the team's five starters -- Edinson Volquez, Drew Smyly and Shelby Miller -- are coming back from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. Their situation is

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Rangers aren’t planning on using an “opener” with the veteran rotation they expect to have going into the season.

Three of the team's five starters -- Edinson Volquez, Drew Smyly and Shelby Miller -- are coming back from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. Their situation is not conducive to coming into the game after a reliever opens by pitching the first one or two innings.

“I wouldn't do it from a health standpoint,” manager Chris Woodward said. “I don't want to put Shelby Miller in that kind of situation. I don't know if he can warm up in the bullpen. They have a long toss routine. You can't long toss in the bullpen. I want them to do what they normally do, and it's not fair for them to put them in that situation.”

Woodward also won’t do it with his two top starters: Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. But he is considering moving Volquez ahead of Lynn in the rotation. Minor has led the rotation this spring followed by Lynn, Volquez, Smyly and Miller. By moving Volquez ahead of Lynn, it keeps Woodward from pitching his three Tommy John cases in three straight games.

“Running those three guys in a row -- not that we're going to be pulling them out early -- but we've got to be mindful of that,” Woodward said. “If you go with those guys back-to-back-to-back, over the course of the season, there may be some games where if all three of them don't have a bounce-back game and have to come out after 70 pitches, it puts our bullpen in a bind for three straight days.”

The fragile health of the rotation is also why the Rangers continue to consider an eight-man bullpen at the expense of an extra infielder.

“Do we need extra arms; depending on who we do keep, do we have enough depth, as far as multiple-inning guys to cover innings?” Woodward said. “You'd hate to be in a situation where you have to pitch a guy back to back when you don't want to, or you have to run a guy out there for three or four innings.

"That sets you back from a pitching standpoint for a week, or you have to call a guy up or sit a guy, and we don't have the weapons we would want to have in the next game.”

Left-handed derby
Woodward said there are three candidates to be the left-hander out of the Rangers' bullpen. Jeffrey Springs and Kyle Bird were known candidates going into spring, and Brett Martin has pushed his way into the competition.

Martin, who was 2-10 with a 7.28 ERA at Double-A Frisco last season, has not allowed an earned run in 6 2/3 spring innings. Opponents are hitting .214 off him, and he has eight strikeouts.

“I told him after his third outing, ‘You know you have a shot.’” Woodward said. “I just wanted to let him know that he really did. He’s pitched so well. He has a chance. And he said ‘No, I came to camp thinking I had a chance.’ It was good to hear that. He’s responded. He controls himself really well.”

Miller, Smyly throw
The Rangers had two of their front-line starters working on Saturday, with Miller pitching the Cactus League game in a 5-2 loss to the Reds. Miller threw 65 pitches over 3 1/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits with two walks, striking out three.

Smyly worked four innings and threw 60 pitches in a Triple-A game for Nashville in Surprise. Pitching against Tacoma, Smyly allowed one run on four hits, did not walk a batter and struck out five. The only run came on a home run by Ian Miller.

Rangers beat
• Hunter Pence was 1-for-3 on Saturday and has hit safely in eight straight games, going 12-for-25 over that span with three home runs and three doubles.

• Woodward on Matt Davidson’s ability to pitch giving him an edge in the utility infield competition: “It won’t hurt, that’s for sure. It adds a little value. If he’s in the big leagues the whole year, he probably won’t see more than 20 innings, but it does add some value.”

• Danny Santana was 2-for-3 on Saturday, and is hitting .324 on the spring with a 1.103 OPS.

Up next
Left-hander Yohander Mendez pitches for the Rangers against the D-backs at 3:05 p.m. CT Sunday in Surprise. Mendez has a 7.27 ERA in four outings this spring. Shawn Kelley and Jose Leclerc are among the relievers scheduled to pitch.

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.