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Lefty Diekman feels 'great' after Cactus debut

Reliever (ulcerative colitis) missed five months of 2017 season
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A bigger, stronger Jake Diekman made his first appearance in a Cactus League game Tuesday and threw a scoreless inning in the Rangers' 4-4 tie with the Dodgers.

Diekman took the mound weighing 221 pounds, up 18 from the end of last year. Spring Training stories about players gaining weight can be tedious, but it's significant for Diekman because he missed the first five months of last season while undergoing three surgical procedures for ulcerative colitis.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A bigger, stronger Jake Diekman made his first appearance in a Cactus League game Tuesday and threw a scoreless inning in the Rangers' 4-4 tie with the Dodgers.

Diekman took the mound weighing 221 pounds, up 18 from the end of last year. Spring Training stories about players gaining weight can be tedious, but it's significant for Diekman because he missed the first five months of last season while undergoing three surgical procedures for ulcerative colitis.

Most players who gain weight aren't doing it through a reconstructed digestive system.

"I get to participate this year," Diekman said. "I feel great. My arm feels good."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Diekman took exception to an observation that he now looks like a linebacker.

"How about slot receiver," he said.

The Rangers would prefer "setup reliever" or even "potential closer." But the most important thing is he is healthy again. He showed that by pitching in 11 games in September, and now he can build on that.

"I feel like I am stronger right now," Diekman said. "I feel like my arm strength compared to two, three, four years ago -- my velocity and arm speed -- is better."

Niese impresses in camp

Martin Perez and Doug Fister seemed to be the most impressive among the four veteran pitchers who threw live batting practice Tuesday morning. Cole Hamels seemed to be the one most unhappy with his work.

Most notable, however, was the work of left-hander Jonathon Niese, who had no trouble getting through two simulated innings. Niese missed all of last season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

He has made 197 Major League starts -- mostly with the Mets -- and was signed to a Minor League contract to provide depth for the starting rotation. Pitching coach Doug Brocail watched Niese throw on Tuesday and liked what he saw.

"Better," Brocail said. "I hope he is trusting the knee. That's something he fought all winter and why he struggled last year."

The knee was no trouble on Tuesday.

"It's feeling good," Niese said. "No pain … getting stronger."

Video: Sullivan on Niese's role with the Rangers

Perez goes after Andrus

Elvis Andrus, who is close to returning following back spasms, stepped in to take live batting practice against Perez on Tuesday morning -- and promptly learned Perez was willing to come inside on his longtime teammate.

"I love it," Andrus said. "Be aggressive. If he hits me, so be it."

Andrus also stepped in against Hamels, who seemed unhappy with his two innings of simulated work.

"That's who he is … He's a perfectionist," Andrus said. "When things are not going his way, he gets mad. But he knows what he needs to do to get back on track."

Nitkowski releases statement

Rangers broadcaster C.J. Nitkowski released a statement through the club Tuesday to address a social-media issue. Nitkowski "liked" a tweet on Twitter celebrating the United States women's hockey team winning the gold medal.

The original tweet was from an alleged extremist group. Nitkowski said he was unaware of the group's political and social views.

"My intention was simply to like a tweet of a team photo of the gold medal-winning U.S. women's hockey team. I did not know the group that posted the photo takes positions on some issues that are offensive to me and others. I don't endorse the group and have unfollowed the account. I apologize for not being more careful on social media and, in turn, if I offended some of my followers, especially Rangers fans."

Rangers beat

• Infielders Hanser Alberto (tight left hamstring) and Trevor Plouffe (tight left intercostal) are both day to day.

Bartolo Colon will get his first start of the spring when he faces the Padres on Thursday in Surprise. Colon was signed to a Minor League contract at the beginning of Spring Training to compete for a spot in the rotation.

Video: MLB Tonight: Colon, Rangers agree to Minors deal

• The Rangers are playing two games Thursday, with their other split squad going to Mesa to face the Athletics. Right-hander Clayton Blackburn will get that start. He threw two scoreless innings in his first start against the Cubs on Saturday.

Up next: Left-hander Matt Moore makes his first start with the Rangers when he pitches against the White Sox on Wednesday in Glendale. Game time is 2:05 p.m. CT, and there will be an exclusive audio webcast on Rangers.com. Adrian Sampson, Ricky Rodriguez, Alex Claudio, Reed Garrett and Jose Leclerc are also scheduled to pitch.

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

Texas Rangers, Jake Diekman