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Rangers Revamp Bullpen Around Closer Nathan

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SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Closer Joe Nathan will be surrounded by some different faces in the bullpen for his second season with the Texas Rangers.

Rangers pitchers and catchers held their first official workout of spring training Wednesday. There are 36 pitchers in camp, many of them relievers looking for work.

Texas relievers Koji Uehara, Mike Adams, Mark Lowe and Scott Feldman all left in free agency this offseason. And left-hander Robbie Ross, who was 6-0 with a 2.22 ERA in 58 relief appearances as a rookie last season, is getting a chance to compete for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation.

“Joe Nathan is certainly guaranteed,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “Everything else is wide open. We’ve got Robbie getting an opportunity to start. We have to wait and see where that goes. If for some reason that doesn’t work out, he has a spot in the bullpen.”

Instead of a bullpen session as he expected, Japanese starting ace Yu Darvish (16-9 with a 3.90 ERA as a major league rookie last season) was one of 14 pitchers who threw five minutes of batting practice on the first day of workouts. Darvish threw to three hitters and worked with A.J. Pierzynski, the catcher who signed a one-year deal with Texas this offseason.

The Rangers signed setup reliever Jason Frasor in free agency. The right-hander spent most of his career with Toronto, setting a Blue Jays franchise record with 505 appearances since his major league debut in 2004. He was 1-1 with a 4.12 ERA in 50 games last season.

Another potential late-inning pitcher is Josh Lindblom, a right-hander acquired from Philadelphia in the deal that sent Michael Young to the Phillies. Lindblom was 3-5 with a 3.55 ERA in 74 games last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia.

“I like the collection of arms we have competing for jobs. How exactly it settles in and who gets what role, there’s still quite a bit of competition ahead of us,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “I feel that we’re going to put together a good bullpen based on the options we have. The bullpen in general is going to be key.”

Evan Meek and Kyle McClellan, who also threw live BP on Wednesday, are signed to minor league contracts, but have had success in the majors and could fill setup roles.

Meek was a 2010 All-Star selection with a 2.14 ERA in 70 relief appearances with Pittsburgh, but was setback by shoulder inflammation in 2011. McClellan, who is also a candidate for the fifth rotation slot, won 12 games in 2011 with St. Louis. He was limited to 18 2/3 innings last season before needing shoulder surgery and was released by the Cardinals after the season.

If Ross claims a rotation slot, that could enhance the chances of left-hander Jeff Beliveau to earn a bullpen spot. Beliveau, who was claimed off waivers from the Cubs, went 1-0 with a 4.58 ERA in 22 relief appearances last season.

Two returnees are right-hander Tanner Scheppers, who went 1-1 with a 4.45 ERA in 39 relief appearances as a rookie, and lefty Michael Kirkman (1-2, 3.82 in 28 games).

“Kirkman showed some improvement last year,” Washington said. “Hopefully, he can continue on. We’ve got Scheppers, who showed some flashes. Now we’ve just got to get some consistency out of him. But it’s open. … We’re not anointing anyone right now. We’ve got some pieces we can do some things with.”

Texas also has two former closers recovering from elbow surgery. Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz won’t be available until later in the season.

A two-time All-Star with Kansas City before signing a two-year deal with Texas in free agency, Soria is recovering from elbow ligament-replacement surgery on April 3. The 28-year-old right-hander also had the ligament replaced in 2003. He has already had a bullpen session in Arizona and with no setbacks could be return in May.

Feliz moved into the Rangers rotation last spring and was 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in eight games, including seven starts. But he went on the disabled list in May when he was diagnosed with a ligament sprain in his elbow, and had Tommy John surgery in August. It is unclear when he might be ready to pitch.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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