MINNEAPOLIS -- The First-Year Player Draft is over and the non-waiver Trade Deadline is the next marquee event for a team's front office. The Rangers' hope is to improve their relief corps. "The focus of our team is to solidify the bullpen," Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said before Saturday's game with the Twins. "We have tried a number of different combinations and now we feel some guys in the bullpen are gaining some momentum. But that has been our focus coming out of Spring Training, getting a seven-man unit gelling and returning to the form we had in 2010." Rangers relievers went into Saturday's game with a record of 7-14 with a 4.26 ERA -- the fifth-highest in the American League.
The two hurlers gaining momentum are right-hander Yoshinori Tateyama and left-hander Michael Kirkman. Kirkman has a 2.70 ERA in five games since being recalled from Triple-A Round Rock, while Tateyama has a 2.89 ERA. "I like what they have started to do," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "Tateyama has come in aggressive and thrown the ball in the strike zone. He gives them a different look. Kirkman has got great velocity on his fastball and a swing-and-miss breaking ball. The key with Kirkman is consistently hitting the strike zone." Tateyama could give the Rangers another right-handed setup reliever to go with Mark Lowe in the late innings. Kirkman is being used in middle relief, while Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver are the Rangers' late-inning left-handed options. The biggest concern with Rhodes is that he is struggling to get right-handed hitters out. Left-handed hitters are batting .208 off him, while right-handers are hitting .371. Right now, Rhodes will be used as a situational left-hander and is likely to be used only against left-handed hitters. The Rangers could be searching for both left-handed and right-handed relief as the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches -- July 31 at 3 p.m. CT -- and they are in conversations with multiple teams. "What you find is it's very challenging to make a trade in June," Levine said. "Teams are still hopeful of contending in 2011 and it is very difficult for a team to trade a winning piece and send a message of concession in July. At this point, you'll see more conversations and movement in July when teams have a better feel for the landscape."