Notes: Dickey earns No. 5 spot

Notes: Dickey earns No. 5 spot

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Right-handed pitcher R.A. Dickey has battled his way back into the Rangers' rotation, this time armed with a knuckleball.

Dickey, who has 32 career Major League starts but spent half of last season working on the knuckleball at Triple-A, has won a job as the Rangers' fifth starter after the club optioned pitchers Edinson Volquez and Juan Dominguez to the Minors.

The Rangers may yet have to turn to Volquez or Dominguez to replace Adam Eaton, but that doesn't change the fact that Dickey is in the rotation.

"We have a strong level of confidence in R.A. with what he's done in the past and the improvements he has made with his knuckleball," general manager Jon Daniels said. "I'm very comfortable starting the year this way."

Daniels had been working the phones in search of starting pitching and had talked to the Braves about John Thomson before he got hurt. But nothing has materialized anywhere.

"I'd say it's highly unlikely that we're going to trade for a starter," Daniels said. "Unless the off-chance presents itself, R.A. will be the fifth starter."

Dickey was is in the Texas rotation at the start of the 2004 season and was the winning pitcher in their home opener. But he ended up on the disabled list with a strained back muscle on June 25 and lost his spot in the rotation.

He began last season on the roster as a reliever but went on the disabled list on April 13 with triceps inflammation and was ultimately optioned back to the Minors. He started working on the knuckleball in July and brought it back with him to the Majors in September.

He was 1-1 with a 6.26 ERA in four starts but the Rangers feel he's shown enough improvement this spring where he can compete with it at the Major League level.

"On one hand, it's a reward that hard work pays off," said Dickey. "I never want it to be the case where I didn't earn something. If I didn't pitch well, I wouldn't be here.

"Also, I have a lot of respect for [Rangers manager Buck Showalter]. It takes a lot of guts to put your stamp on something you don't completely understand. I also know this is just a beginning, the first step. I have a lot to prove and rightfully so."

Dominguez came into camp as the leading candidate for the fifth-starter spot, but he went 1-2 with an 8.44 ERA in the spring, and opponents hit .333 off him. Both he and Volquez will be in the Triple-A rotation.

"Juan's arm strength is coming back and his command is better," Showalter said. "He just needs to finish off a few things. After two or three starts down there he should be pitching the way he's capable of and I think he'll be an option down the road."

Volquez impressed the Rangers early, but he gave up six runs in the first inning against the Seattle Mariners on Monday, and he's now 1-2 with an 8.36 ERA for the spring.

Wilson, Matthews out: The Rangers have decided that both Gary Matthews Jr. (strained rib cage) and pitcher C.J. Wilson will not be on the Opening Day roster. Matthews will start the season on the disabled list. Wilson, who has had a series of minor physical setbacks, could either start the season on the disabled list or be optioned to the Minor Leagues.

Wilson, who has pitched just 1 1/3 innings in "A" games this spring, will remain behind in extended Spring Training, pitching every other day. At some point next week the Rangers will make a decision whether he is ready to pitch at the Major League level, but pitching coach Mark Connor wants him to get at least six more innings of work.

Castro gets another boost: The Rangers also reassigned pitcher Jose Silva to Minor League camp. Silva was a candidate for the long relief job, but that appears to be where the Rangers will use Fabio Castro, a Rule 5 Draft pick whom the club doesn't want to let get away.

"That's being given strong consideration but there are some things we want to finalize before we make a final decision," Daniels said.

Castro, a left-hander, would be a part of a bullpen that also includes right-handers Francisco Cordero, Akinori Otsuka, Joaquin Benoit and left-hander Brian Shouse. Right-hander Antonio Alfonseca is also expected to be in the bullpen.

The Rangers would add at least one more, either right-hander Scott Feldman or left-hander Erasmo Ramirez. The Rangers have not ruled out an eight-man bullpen.

Wilkerson returns with bang: Brad Wilkerson returned to the Rangers' lineup for the first time in seven days and hit a home run in his second at-bat.

Wilkerson has been sidelined with inflammation in his right shoulder but had a cortisone shot on Sunday and said that made a huge difference.

"It feels good ... no pain," Wilkerson said.

The Rangers also like what they've seen lately from outfielder Laynce Nix, who is hitting .224 with three home runs and 11 RBIs, and Showalter said, "He's a lot better option than he was two weeks ago."

Millwood soars: So what do Opening Day starters do for leisure during Spring Training? Kevin Millwood spent Tuesday afternoon taking a ride in an F-16 from nearby Luke Air Force Base.

"It was a blast," Millwood said. "It was like an hour-long roller coaster ride.

"We flew around here and then went down toward the Mexico border and that's where we flew around. We did everything, loops, corkscrews, half loops, went around clouds at 9.1 Gs. They had that Mach meter on the panel and you could see it go past Mach 1, the speed of sound."

They didn't launch any attacks on anybody.

"We were going to drop a bomb on that conditioning field out there but ..." Millwood said.

It's not known if Millwood's five-year, $60 million contract specifically bans F-16 flights but he said, "If we had crashed and burned, I'm sure the Rangers could have gotten out of it. But it was pretty safe."

Wasdin released: The Rangers also announced Wednesday that pitcher John Wasdin has cleared waivers. The Rangers plan to release him and then re-sign him to a Minor League contract so he can pitch in the Oklahoma rotation.

He would not be an option to replace Eaton in the rotation. If a team releases a player after Aug. 15 and then re-signs him to a Minor League Contract, he can't pitch in the Majors until May 15 of the following year.

Briefly: The Detroit Tigers are scheduled to pitch Nate Robertson, Mike Maroth, Justin Verlander and Kenny Rogers in the four-game series, April 6-9, at Ameriquest Field in Arlington. All but Verlander are left-handed. Rogers, the ex-Ranger, pitches Sunday. ... The Phillies have released pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez, who was acquired from the Rangers for Vicente Padilla. Said general manager Pat Gillick, "Turned out it wasn't a good trade." The Phillies could have taken Minor League infielder Julio Gonzalez instead. ... Wednesday's loss means the Rangers will have a losing record in Spring Training for the third straight year.

Coming up: Padilla makes his last start of the spring against J.P. Howell and the Kansas City Royals at 1:05 p.m. CT Thursday in Surprise Stadium.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.