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Wright handed the fifth spot

Wright handed the fifth spot

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers fifth starter derby is coming to a close.

The job is going to Jamey Wright. The Rangers just like his stuff and ability too much to risk losing him.

Wright, who pitches Monday against the San Diego Padres, is in Spring Training on a Minor League contract and could become a free agent if he's not placed on the Major League roster by Wednesday. The Rangers know he would "go away" if they didn't add him to the roster.

That's weighing heavily in the Rangers deliberations to go with Wright over Kameron Loe, who will likely stay with the team as a long reliever.

"It's a consideration," general manager Jon Daniels said about Wright's status. "Right now we are weighing everything. Our first priority is breaking with the best club possible so we can get off to a good start. But we also want to maintain our depth and prepare for any contingencies. It's something you've got to think about."

The Rangers depth at Triple-A is not what they would hoped it would be. Thomas Diamond is out for the season because of Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and Edinson Volquez will start the season at Class A Bakersfield. A.J. Murray will be used in relief and John Rheinecker has yet to pitch in a game this spring.

The Rangers can't afford another hit to their depth by letting Wright get away.

Bruce Chen will have to settle for third place in the competition. He has pitched well this spring and still has a 3.52 ERA but it wasn't good enough to make the rotation. The Rangers have had other teams inquire about him and there is a good chance he could be moved before the April 1 out-date in his contract.

Loe has had a terrific spring, pitching 13 2/3 scoreless innings while allowing eight hits and four walks with six strikeouts. He was scratched from Thursday's start with neck and back spasms but there was just a temporary setback. He is still scheduled to pitch on Sunday against the Chicago White Sox in Tucson.

"I think I've shown them everything they want to see," Loe said. "I've struck some people out, worked out of some jams and got a million ground balls. I've been able to throw my off-speed pitches for strikes. I think that's what they wanted to see."

Loe also gives the Rangers some flexibility that they don't get with Wright. They could option him to Triple-A Oklahoma or he could be used as the long man in a seven-man bullpen. A spot in the bullpen seems most likely. The Rangers believe he does deserve to be in the Majors based on the way he has pitched.

"We just want him to keep the ball in the strike zone and keep the ball in play," manager Ron Washington said. "We're not looking for anything more than what he has already been doing."

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The Rangers are opening the season with a bullpen that includes closer Eric Gagne, setup reliever Akinori Otsuka, right-hander Joaquin Benoit and two left-handers in C.J. Wilson and Ron Mahay. Benoit was supposed to be the Rangers long reliever but manager Ron Washington is talking about using him in the seventh inning.

That would create a need for a long reliever who could pitch multiple innings and Loe would be a prime candidate for that. He has 41 relief appearances in his Major League career.

Wright had a good spring up until his last start, when he allowed four runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings against the Chicago Cubs. His mechanics fell "out of whack" as Washington put it and that has been known to happen to him. His ERA for the spring is 4.63.

Wright, 32, has great stuff and that's been the talk of the camp. But he also has a career Major League record of 67-98 with a 5.14 ERA, including 6-10 with a 5.19 ERA in 156 innings with the San Francisco Giants last year. He was 5-3 with a 3.84 ERA in his first nine starts and 1-7 with a 6.12 ERA the rest of the way.

But pitching coach Mark Connor has worked with Wright on his mechanics and believes he can keep him together for a full season. Daniels said that Wright's track record will be considered as the Rangers get ready to make a final decision.

"Jamey brings some things to the table," Daniels said. "He has shown he is durable and he's still youthful at 32. Pitching out of that fifth spot, he is capable of giving us 160-180 innings. The question from us is, 'What are we seeing that's different from what he has done before? What makes us believe he can perform at a different level?'"

The Rangers are about to find out.

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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