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Notes: Littleton losing standing

Notes: Littleton falls as Koronka, Rupe go down

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Wes Littleton came into Spring Training with the "inside track" on one of the right-handed middle-relief jobs in the Rangers bullpen.

That's no longer the case. Joaquin Benoit is the one who is locking down a job. Littleton could be getting into jeopardy of not making this team.

Both he and Rick Bauer struggled on Sunday afternoon in the Rangers' 12-8 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

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"It wasn't very good," manager Ron Washington summed up afterward.

Littleton faced six batters in the fourth inning. He walked three, hit one, struck out one and gave up a home run. His spring ERA is now 24.00.

"I'm not concerned about Wes Littleton," Washington said. "Wes is the one who has to be concerned about Wes. ... It has to get better."

Bauer gave up five runs in one inning. Four of the five runs were unearned because of shortstop Matt Kata's error, but his ERA for the spring is 15.43.

"I'd just like to see him throw the ball well one time," Washington said. "There's got to be more than what I'm seeing."

Mike Wood has been one of the most impressive pitchers in camp. He saved the day on Sunday with three scoreless innings and has a 2.35 ERA for the spring. He was not considered a major candidate for the bullpen coming into camp, but he's pitching better than many who are.

"He's still here," Washington said. "He wasn't cut today. He's going to keep getting the ball like everybody else. I like the way he pounds the strike zone."

Koronka, Rupe sent down: John Koronka and Josh Rupe have officially fallen out of the fifth-starter competition.

Rupe and Koronka were both optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma on Sunday, two of eight players who were sent to the Minor Leagues in the latest round of cuts. With Rupe and Koronka gone, the fifth-starter spot is now down to Kameron Loe, Jamey Wright and Bruce Chen.

"There's been separation," Washington said. "Loe, Chen and Wright have separated themselves from the pack. It's time for those other guys to go out and get on a regular schedule of pitching."

Rupe came in as one of the favorites for the job. But he started off slowly, wanting to avoid the elbow problems that he experienced last spring, and never could catch up to the others. He was sent down with a 15.43 ERA.

He was used as a reliever with the Rangers last season, but the plan right now is for him to be in the starting rotation at Oklahoma. He still needs to show he has the durability an endurance to make it through an entire season as a starter.

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"He needs to get his arm in shape," pitching coach Mark Connor said. "It's coming, but it's not there yet. He's a four-pitch guy but with Josh you always have to stay on top of his mechanics because he can get away from them in a hurry."

Koronka made 23 starts for the Rangers, third most on the team, but allowed 13 hits and two walks over six innings this spring.

Wright factors: One reason why Wright might be the fifth starter is because he's in camp on a Minor League contract and can take free agency if he's not added to the 40-man roster on March 28.

With the way Wright is pitching, the Rangers understand that he could find a job with another organization quickly and there is some sentiment within the organization to make sure he doesn't get away. If Loe doesn't make the team, he could be simply optioned to Oklahoma without fuss.

"It's a factor," general manager Jon Daniels admitted. "We want to take the team we feel most comfortable with in getting off to the best start. But that's a factor. We'd like to maintain our depth, but we don't want to penalize Kam because of where he is in his career."

Chen can become a free agent on April 1 if not added to the 40-man roster. He pitched three scoreless innings against the Rockies on Sunday.

Arias' spring gets worse: Joaquin Arias continues to have a miserable spring. He has yet to play the field because of a strained shoulder and now he has an infected right thumb after somehow cutting it a few days ago.

Because of his problems, the idea of trying him in center field never materialized and it's almost certain that he'll remain at shortstop for the immediate future.

"It's unrealistic for us to consider him for that right now," Daniels said. "Once we get him healthy, we may look at him out there."

Arias is 6-for-14 this spring as either a designated hitter or pinch-hitter, but now he can't swing a bat until his thumb gets better.

"I need to play," Arias said. "My first game was as a DH. I didn't like that at all. I need to be in the field."

He said it: "There are very few things in this game you can control, but I know what a game like this does for me, mentally and personally. It's great. There are always eyes watching you, whether they are from here or somewhere else. I know I can play this game and help this team win." -- infielder Matt Kata, who went 4-for-5 with two home runs, including a grand slam, on Sunday.

Briefly: Eric Gagne threw 20 pitches in a simulated game on Sunday and may make his first appearance in an A game on Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs. ... Also sent down to the Minor Leagues on Sunday were pitchers A.J. Murray, Franklyn German and Willie Eyre, catchers Kevin Richardson and Salomon Manriquez and first baseman Nate Gold.

Up next: Right-hander Robinson Tejeda pitches for the Rangers at 3:05 p.m. CT Tuesday against the San Francisco Giants at Surprise Stadium. He will face right-hander Russ Ortiz. The Rangers are off on Monday, although right-hander Brandon McCarthy is scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game.

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

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