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Scheppers working toward major role in bullpen

Rangers looking for right-hander to seize setup job after injury-plagued 2014

GARLAND, Texas -- Rangers reliever Tanner Scheppers took a significant step on Wednesday by throwing off the mound in the bullpen for the first time this offseason.

"It went good," Scheppers said. "Everything has been feeling good. I feel healthy, I'm excited for the year."

Scheppers is just one of several players being monitored by the Rangers this winter because of health issues stemming from last year. But there is no doubting his importance to the club as Spring Training approaches and the bullpen is still being addressed.

The Rangers have Neftali Feliz back as closer and they have a long list of right-handed relief candidates to back him up. But Scheppers is the one who has proven he can be a "lights out" guy in the eighth inning, an essential role in a modern bullpen. That was reinforced last season when the Royals went to the World Series with an outstanding bullpen that included the eighth-inning work of Wade Davis.

"All the roles in the bullpen pretty much work together," Scheppers said. "To be successful down the road, you need everyone to have success."

Video: [email protected]: Scheppers strikes out three over five

Perhaps, but in 2014, the Rangers were outscored, 94-48, in the eighth inning alone. In '13, the Rangers outscored their opponents, 68-56, in the eighth.

That was when the Rangers had Scheppers as their eighth-inning setup man. Relying on a fastball that averaged 96.3 miles per hour, Scheppers was 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP.

"I'm confident I can still do that again," Scheppers said. "I just have to take it one day at a time, focus on the task at hand and go from there."

Scheppers wasn't in that role last season. The Rangers moved him into the rotation and he was their Opening Day starter. But he made it through just four starts before going down with elbow inflammation. Scheppers missed almost two months, came back for four relief appearances in June, and then had more problems. He did not pitch after June 10.

"Disappointing and frustrating," Scheppers said. "Definitely a learning experience. I try to take every experience, up or down, and learn from it. I learned patience. And as I look down the road in my career, this will give me a better outlook on what I need to do to be prepared for that."

Which means Scheppers is not giving up hope that one day he could be a starter in the big leagues.

"Definitely not," Scheppers said. "But I understand team needs ... right now, I just want to be in a ballgame."

The Rangers need him in the bullpen. They have made it clear he will not be a candidate for the rotation this spring, although it is not being ruled out for the future.

Scheppers just fits there right now, setting up Feliz ahead of a group that includes Shawn Tolleson, Roman Mendez, Phil Klein, Jon Edwards, Spencer Patton, Juan Carlos Oviedo and Ross Wolf. There could be others.

The Rangers are still looking for bullpen help and there are still some intriguing right-handed relievers available as free agents. The list includes Joba Chamberlain, Burke Badenhop, Jared Burton, Chris Perez, John Axford and Jose Veras. But the Rangers saw what Scheppers can do when he is healthy. That's why it was big on Wednesday to have him throwing off a mound again and to be healthy going into Spring Training.

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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