Rangers' Francisco not ready for playoffs

Rangers' Francisco not ready for playoffs

ARLINGTON -- Rangers right-handed reliever Frank Francisco, sidelined with a strained muscle in his right rib cage, will not be ready for the first round of the playoffs. Right-hander Mark Lowe, who was activated off the disabled list Wednesday, is emerging as a possible candidate to replace him.

Francisco, who has been on the disabled list since Aug. 28, had an MRI on Tuesday, and the results showed some improvement but not enough to get him back on the mound immediately. Dr. Keith Meister advised the Rangers to continue to be cautious with him. Francisco has been limited to flat ground since resuming a throwing program eight days ago. He will likely spend the first round of the playoffs continuing his throwing program in Arizona.

"We'll see if he's ready for the second round," manager Ron Washington said.

Texas wants to see if Lowe is ready for the first round. The Rangers are going to pitch him on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday to see if he can be an option for their bullpen.

"He's gotten rookie leaguers and some A-ballers out, let's see if he can get some big leaguers out," Washington said. "We want to take a look at his stuff and see how he's recovered. He's been cleared to pitch. We have an opportunity to look at him and we want to do that."

Lowe began the season with the Mariners and was 1-3 with a 3.48 ERA in 11 games with a back problem. He underwent surgery on June 15 to repair a lumbar disc herniation and then was acquired by the Rangers on July 9 as a second player in a trade for pitcher Cliff Lee. He has been throwing in Arizona and has made two appearances in Instructional League games.

Physically, he has had no problems or setbacks with the back.

"I haven't thought about my back in months," Lowe said. "After three weeks out of surgery, I was feeling better than I ever have. My stuff is good. I've felt great. The ball is coming out nice and easy. My mechanics are good. I think I can go out and compete."

He did so in 2009, when he emerged as a front-line right-handed setup reliever for the Mariners. He was 2-7 with a 3.26 ERA in 80 innings. He allowed 71 hits and 29 walks while striking out 69. His average fastball over the past two years has been 96 mph, putting him in the same class as fellow Texas relievers Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz. He also has excellent movement when right, with a heavy sinker that bores in on right-handed hitters.

"During his rehab stints, he was hitting 96 [mph] -- and that was in his first rehab assignment, so stuff-wise, he will be really close to what he's all about," Mariners bullpen coach John Wetteland said. "More than that, he's just a consummate bullpen fit, that kind of piece. He's a character, very level-headed, things don't seem to rattle him, he's very grounded in his routine. [The Rangers] are going to be tough. It's a 'pen full of pretty strong arms. He will be a nice addition for them."

The Rangers want to see if that's sooner than later.