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Notes: Koronka sent back to Triple-A

Notes: Koronka sent back to Triple-A

HOUSTON -- The Rangers, as planned, optioned John Koronka to Triple-A Oklahoma on Sunday and promoted reliever Wes Littleton.

Littleton gives the Rangers an eight-man bullpen, one more than normal, and they feel they need to stay that way for a while because of the excess workload their relievers have gone through lately.

"We do [need eight guys in the bullpen]," pitching coach Mark Connor said. "Right now that's the way we're going. That's the thing that's going to allow us to get these guys back to where they are finally rested."

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The Rangers are off on Thursday, meaning they won't need a fifth starter until May 29 against the Oakland Athletics.

The Rangers would love Kevin Millwood to be that guy, but it's unlikely that he'll be ready to come off the disabled list. Millwood played catch off a mound on Saturday and is hoping to get clearance for a full bullpen session in the next few days. But the Rangers are still determined not to rush him back.

"I think that might be pushing it," manager Ron Washington said.

"We need Kevin back in the rotation but I want him back completely recovered and be the pitcher we know he is," Connor said. "It's not like September and we're two games out. We have a long ways to go. Missing two or three starts at this juncture and being able to pitch the rest of the way is tantamount."

Koronka allowed three runs in five-plus innings on Saturday in a 6-1 loss to the Astros. He walked three and struck out two.

"He kept us in the game," Connor said. "He wasn't very effective with his pitch count, but he kept us in the game for five innings. I thought his changeup at times was good. He competed just like he did last year. John can pitch up here if he locates his fastball and changeup. For a spot start and coming out of the Minor Leagues, I thought it was pretty good."

Catalanotto coming back: The Rangers will activate Frank Catalanotto off the disabled list on Monday and Washington made it clear that he will replace a position player. The Rangers have a difficult choice.

Kevin Mahar is a possibility, but with Jerry Hairston on the disabled list, the Rangers want a right-handed hitter who can play center field.

Ramon Vazquez is a possibility, but he's out of options and would have to clear outright waivers. Rangers officials have expressed concern that he would be claimed by another team.

Matt Kata has options and he has one hit in his last 20 at-bats. He could be a possibility. Vazquez started instead of Kata for the second time in three games at third base.

Catalanotto, on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis in his right arm, was 2-for-5 on Saturday and is 4-for-12 in three games on medical rehabilitation assignment at Triple-A Oklahoma. He'll have one more game on Sunday. Washington said he'll be used at designated hitter for the first few games back, but the Rangers are hoping he can be used in the outfield by the weekend series against the Red Sox.

Washington unrepentant: Major League Baseball officials frown upon managers criticizing umpires but Washington wasn't too worried about it. He had to go back to his hotel room and see replay after replay of the key call of Saturday's game against the Houston Astros.

Washington still insists that umpire Tim Timmons missed the call when he said third baseman Travis Metcalf was off the bag on a force play.

"You're not supposed to criticize the officials but I'm not worried about it because he blew the call," Washington said. "Maybe I should keep that to myself. They kept showing it on TV. I got sick of watching it."

Washington also made another point:

"I don't care what was said, 3-1 going to the seventh is different than a 6-1 score," Washington said. "I'm not going to agree that we would have lost 3-1. We would have had a chance to win and 6-1 is tougher."

He said it: "It's my job. I come every day with a good attitude and I come to the ballpark with a plan to get the most out of these guys. You hate losing but you have to find a way. These kids look up to you, especially when times are bad." -- hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo

Saturday's Minor stars: Top performances from Saturday's Minor League games:

Gold: Outfielder John Mayberry Jr.'s three-run home run got Class A Bakersfield going as they rallied for an 11-5 victory over Stockton. Outfielder Truan Mehl, designated hitter Taylor Teagarden and first baseman Freddie Thom also homered for the Blaze.

Silver: Casey Benjamin went 3-for-3 with a walk for Double-A Frisco in a 4-2 loss to San Antonio.

Bronze: Ezequiel Astacio pitched two scoreless innings and struck out three in relief, picking up his first victory in Triple-A Oklahoma's 8-4 win over Iowa.

Briefly: The Astros' wives defeated the Rangers' wives, 12-7, in their annual softball game on Sunday. Christi Ensberg had an inside-the-park home run and eight RBIs. ... Sammy Sosa was out of the lineup on Sunday but is expected to play right field on Monday.

Up next: The Rangers open a three-game series with the Minnesota Twins at 7:05 p.m. CT on Monday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Vicente Padilla pitches for the Rangers against Carlos Silva for the Twins.

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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