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Washington looks to ease bullpen burden

NEW YORK -- Manager Ron Washington knows that right-handed setup reliever Tanner Scheppers and left-handers Neal Cotts and Robbie Ross are carrying heavy workloads. The skipper also knows that he could ease that burden by integrating veteran right-handed relievers Kyle McClellan and Jason Frasor into the mix.

But Washington has had a hard time doing that, and neither pitcher has yet to appear in a game on this road trip. In Frasor's case, Washington said it's because the Yankees and the Cardinals are loaded with left-handed bats, which means he prefers to use Cotts and Ross. Frasor has only pitched in eight games this month, but he does have a 1.59 ERA in June.

"He's been doing a great job when we've been able to put him in there," Washington said. "He has been a successful reliever, but with the lineups we have been facing, we've had to use the left-handers and then Scheppers in the eighth inning."

McClellan was an integral member of the Cardinals' bullpen over the previous five years before signing with the Rangers. But he suffered a major setback in Spring Training with a strained muscle in his right rib cage and wasn't called up to the big leagues until June 9. The Rangers aren't ready to rush him into crunch-time assignments.

"We just haven't had a situation where we could get him out here, get some work in and get a feel," Washington said. "We're not going to throw him to the wolves."

The Rangers are also hoping to get former All-Star closer Joakim Soria back before the All-Star Game and into an integral role in the bullpen. Soria, who underwent Tommy John surgery on April 3, 2012, pitched a scoreless inning for the Arizona Rookie League Rangers on Wednesday, and his next outing will be Friday for Triple-A Round Rock.

The final test will be going in back-to-back games, but when Soria is activated, the Rangers expect him to gradually assume a prominent role in the bullpen. He was the Royals' closer for five years before the surgery.

"It would give me the ability to not run Scheppers out there three to four days in a row and give me the ability, once he really gets going, to back off Joe [Nathan]," Washington said.

The big question is how long it will take Soria to become an impact reliever after being out so long because of the surgery. The skipper knows it's not going to be immediate.

"We're not going to throw him into the fire," Washington said. "We're going to give him some innings that are not stressful and let him show us what he can do."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger.
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