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Notes: Wilson assuming closer's role

Notes: Wilson assuming closer's role

CLEVELAND -- He isn't the closer yet.

But he is certainly walking like a closer, talking like a closer and acting like a closer. C.J. Wilson is also pitching like a closer, going 2-for-2 in save opportunities since Eric Gagne was traded to the Boston Red Sox.

"The past couple of days, it has worked out perfectly that he was in the game at the end," Rangers manager Ron Washington said before Thursday's game. "Maybe one of these guys will step up and take over the situation. The past couple of days that's the calmest I've seen him and he's come in and pounded the strike zone."

Wilson, a left-hander, wants the job but Washington is still saying the Rangers will use a combination of both him and right-hander Joaquin Benoit. But Wilson has done more than just save two straight games.

He was the Rangers Player of the Month for July after going 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA and he went into Thursday's game having not allowed a run in 9 1/3 innings over his last ten appearances. During that stretch he has allowed three hits and two walks while striking out 12.

"He just needs to keep getting those three outs in the ninth," Washington said. "He's got the stuff, but we want to ease him into this. I'm not saying he's the guy. We still have Benoit down there. But if he keeps going, then maybe one of these days he's the guy. We just don't want to rush him."

Wilson's excited to be out there right now, and knows that the situation may change should the Rangers acquire another pitcher in the future or go back to Akinori Otsuka, who is currently on the disabled list.

"Absolutely," Wilson said. "If I'm holding a spot, that's my spot until somebody takes it away. Talking to [bullpen coach Dom] Chito and [pitching coach Mark] Connor the other day, they were saying opportunity is the one thing that's priceless. I'm trying to maximize my opportunity."

The closer has to get both right-handed and left-handed hitters out. Right-handers hit .292 off Wilson last year but that's dropped to .256 this season.

"The big pitch for me has been the changeup," Wilson said. "It has been the equalizer against right-handers. It has taken me to a whole another level."

Melhuse starts: Adam Melhuse started at catcher on Thursday, something Washington had planned before the Rangers acquired Jarrod Saltalamacchia on Tuesday. Washington admitted that it may be Melhuse's last start of the season.

The plan is for Saltalamacchia to catch two games a week and Gerald Laird to do the rest. Melhuse might get a game at third or first, but that's about it.

"That's the way it goes," Melhuse said. "That's the direction they decided to go. It looks like AB's are going to be tough to come by in the next two months, but next year might look good. The way I see it, I don't anticipate them bringing Saltalamacchia in here to back up. They'll either have him playing behind the plate every day or playing first base every day. I just need to be patient."

Melhuse will be arbitration eligible this winter with five-plus years of service time.

Saltalamacchia headed to IL: Washington said Saltalamacchia is going to Instructional League in October to work with third-base coach Don Wakamatsu on his catching skills. Wakamatsu is a former Major League catcher who handles the Rangers catching instruction.

Right now, Saltalamacchia is playing twice a week at catcher and the rest at first base. But the Rangers are still looking at him as a possible catcher.

"That's what he wants to do," Washington said. "We're going to give him every opportunity to hone his skills. We're just fortunate to be able to put him at first base because it's open for us."

The longest name: Saltalamacchia's name is the longest in Major League history, and that made it a challenge for equipment manager Zack Minasian to get it on the back of the jersey.

"First, I had to learn to spell it," Minasian said. "I looked at Catalanotto and that's 11 letters. That goes from armpit to armpit so there was no way I was going to use regular thick letters for Saltalamacchia. So I went with the thin letters. I don't normally do that, but in this case, I had no choice. But it worked out fine."

He said it: "I do see a different guy. I see him confident. I see him swinging the bat and I see him more aggressive. It's all due to him being comfortable and seeing the ball better."
-- Washington, on outfielder Nelson Cruz.

Wednesday's Minor Stars: Gold: Double-A Frisco right-hander Doug Mathis pitched eight scoreless innings in a 5-0 victory over Midland. He allowed three singles, struck out six and did not walk a batter.

Silver: Max Ramirez scored the winning run on a double by Ben Harrison as Class A Bakersfield beat Visalia, 6-5. Harrison was 2-for-5 and Ramirez was 2-for-3 with two walks.

Bronze: Triple-A Oklahoma outfielder Victor Diaz was 3-for-4 with a walk, three runs scored and three RBIs in a 9-3 victory over Fresno.

Briefly: Left-hander Matt Harrison, who was acquired from the Braves, has been assigned to Surprise (Az.) where he will continue to rehab a strained left shoulder. ... Outfielder David Murphy has yet to report to Triple-A Oklahoma because his wife is expecting a child and the Rangers have yet to address what his future will be. ... Kevin Millwood is still expected to start on Friday even though has been zapped by the flu bug this week. "I feel a lot better," Millwood growled Thursday morning.

Up next: The Rangers open a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays at 6:07 p.m. CT on Friday at Rogers Centre. Millwood is scheduled to pitch for the Rangers against right-hander Roy Halladay for the Blue Jays.

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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