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Notes: Closer Gagne unavailable

Notes: Closer Gagne unavailable

ARLINGTON -- Akinori Otsuka is on the disabled list, and manager Ron Washington said Eric Gagne was unavailable after pitching in three straight games.

With all the trade rumors swirling about their two top relievers, the Rangers were preparing for a one-game glimpse on Wednesday of what life might be like without Gagne and Otsuka not being around as their closer.

"We'll piece something together," Washington said.

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If the Rangers found themselves without Gagne and Otsuka in the near future, the Rangers would have three candidates to step into the closer's role: right-handers Joaquin Benoit and Frank Francisco and left-hander C.J. Wilson.

Benoit is the only one who has a save this year and went into Wednesday's game with a record of 3-3 and a 2.87 ERA. His 9.28 strikeouts per nine innings was tied for the 15th best in the American League among relievers.

"He's got the stuff to be a closer; I really believe that," pitching coach Mark Connor said. "But the thing about Joaquin is he has been so versatile pitching two innings, three innings or one inning. Those kind of guys are hard to find. But closers are hard to find, too."

Francisco was considered a potential future closer in 2004, when he was the Rangers Rookie of the Year and went 5-1 with a 3.33 ERA. Francisco has become an effective reliever after a two-year recovery from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, but he's not the overpowering pitcher he was in '04.

Opponents hit .198 off him that year. They are hitting .250 this season. He struck out 10.52 batters per nine innings in 2004. He is striking out 6.08 per nine innings this season. The biggest difference is his split-fingered fastball is not as good as it was three years ago.

"He has a chance to do it, but he's got to come up with more consistent offspeed stuff," Connor said. "You can't be a one-pitch pitcher as a closer. You have to have two quality pitches."

Wilson has expressed a desire to be a closer, and Connor likes the idea of having a left-handed closer at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Connor had a left-handed closer in Dave Righetti when he was the Yankees' pitching coach, and that worked well at a ballpark tailored for left-handed power hitters. The Ballpark is the same way.

"You didn't have to worry about a left-handed power hitter beating you," Connor said.

Padilla watch: Vicente Padilla, on the disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow, pitched two scoreless innings for Double-A Frisco on Tuesday and had no physical problems. But that's likely to be just the first of at least four starts on rehab for Padilla.

Connor said the Rangers are going to build up Padilla slowly on a Spring Training schedule, increasing his workload by 15 pitches per outing. He threw 30 on Tuesday and is scheduled to throw 45 in his next start on Saturday. The Rangers want to get him up to 75 before deciding if he's ready to pitch at the big-league level.

"We'd love to get him back here and be the real Padilla," Connor said. "But from arm strength and pitch count, he's not ready."

Clubhouse chatter: Excerpts from the Rangers clubhouse on Wednesday:

Connor on John Rheinecker's terrific performance on Tuesday: "It was a good step in the right direction. He needs to build on it. It's all about consistency, not just one start. His body is in a lot better shape than it was last year. That's one thing in his favor."

Washington on third baseman Travis Metcalf no longer being a platoon player: "He's a third baseman. I'm putting him out there more than anybody. When I take him out now, it's because I feel he needs a day off."

Gagne on his workload: "They've used me the right way this year, giving me days off. I want to be in there every day; that's just the way I am. But that's why I'm healthy. They've used me the right way."

Hairston sits: Jerry Hairston was available as an "emergency" player Wednesday. Hairston has been battling back problems since Opening Day and left Tuesday's first game when his back stiffened up. The Rangers hope he'll be ready on Friday.

"It's just been off and on this season, but I feel better," Hairston said. "I've never neck or back problems. I've been through worse with my knee [earlier this season]. I'm just doing treatment every day."

He said it: "We're playing good. We're gaining ground on one of the teams up in our division. You never know what could happen, get within 10 games by mid-August, you just never know what could happen." -- catcher Gerald Laird

Tuesday's Minor Stars:

Gold: Right-hander Edinson Volquez allowed one run on two hits over six innings, leading Triple-A Oklahoma past Portland, 6-1. Volquez is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA since his promotion to the Red Hawks.

Silver: Designated hitter Taylor Teagarden went 2-for-4 with two home runs and three RBIs, as Class A Bakersfield defeated Lake Elsinore, 12-7.

Bronze: Left-hander Derek Holland allowed one run on three hits with eight strikeouts in five innings, lifting Class A Spokane over Boise, 9-3.

Briefly: Second baseman Ian Kinsler will be at Oklahoma on Thursday and be available to pinch-hit. He will begin a three-game medical rehabilitation assignment Friday. The Rangers plan to activate Kinsler for the start of the Cleveland series Tuesday. ... Designated hitter Jason Botts was activated off the disabled list at Oklahoma. Botts had a laceration on his right ring finger. ... Oklahoma Outfielder Kevin West (calf strain) was placed on the disabled list.

Up next: The Rangers are off Thursday before heading to Kansas City for a three-game series. Right-hander Jamey Wright pitches for the Rangers against right-hander Brian Bannister of the Royals. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. CT at Kauffman Stadium.

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

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