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Kirkman aims to correct command, fulfill potential

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Michael Kirkman has been in three Spring Training camps with the Rangers, but has not yet distinguished himself.

Kirkman has pitched in 16 Cactus League games over the past three years and has a collective ERA of 7.62. In 26 innings, he has allowed 38 hits and eight walks while striking out 21.

He needs to do better this spring, for his own peace of mind and because he could be a pivotal player in how the Rangers' pitching staff falls into place for Opening Day.

"I have to be better, I really do," Kirkman said. "I've had a hard time the past few years, for some reason my arm wasn't ready like it should be. But I think I'm more ready for this spring [than] in the past. I've been working on a few things with [pitching coach Mike Maddux] to combat my command and bringing it back in, and this should be a pretty good spring.

"I was ready for [Spring Training] to get here. I was ready to get started. I'm tired of getting here, having one really bad game and it's over. I want to pitch to my capability."

Maddux has also urged Kirkman to be willing to take on a bigger role in the bullpen.

"That's what I want to do, that's where I want my career to go," Kirkman said. "I want to be that guy in the seventh inning."

Kirkman has the talent to dominate. Over parts of the past three seasons, he has pitched in 57 Major League games, held opponents to a .202 batting average and struck out 75 batters in 79 innings. The problem has been 39 walks, or 4.4 per nine innings. That's the highest for any Rangers reliever with at least 50 appearances over the past combined three seasons.

That statistic drives manager Ron Washington crazy, but if Kirkman can fix his command issues, he could give the Rangers a dominating left-handed setup reliever in the bullpen. That might make it easier for the Rangers to move Robbie Ross to the rotation. Kirkman and Ross are the most experienced left-handed relievers on the Rangers 40-man roster, although Jeff Beliveau was claimed on waivers from the Cubs and veterans Neal Cotts and Nate Robertson have Minor League contracts.