Loe pitched five scoreless innings in a 5-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, but that may not keep him from going to the bullpen. There is still strong sentiment among the Rangers to keep looking at Rheinecker, who is 0-1 but with a 3.38 ERA in his last two starts against Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
But on Tuesday, they'll get their first Major League look at Volquez, who has had to work his way up from Class A Bakersfield. He started out 0-4 with a 7.13 ERA in seven games at Bakersfield but was 8-1 with a 3.55 ERA at Double-A Frisco and is now 5-1 with a 1.89 ERA in six starts at Triple-A Oklahoma.
"He's done everything we've asked him to do," Washington said. "It's time to see where he is, facing Major League hitters. If he brings the same maturity and focus up here that he showed down there, I think everybody will see the Volquez that they've been expecting to see. We're not asking him to be Cy Young, just keep us in the ballgame."
If Rheinecker goes Wednesday, the Rangers will use left-hander Kason Gabbard on Thursday against the Seattle Mariners. Gabbard has been pitching with some stiffness in his left forearm, but the Rangers have no plans to take him out of the rotation.
"Gabbard is staying in the rotation unless something flares up in his next start," Washington said.
Free agent blues: The Rangers have good reason to want to take a hard look at Volquez and Rheinecker.
The chances of getting starting pitching help this winter through the free agent market is bleak, especially with Carlos Zambrano re-signing with the Chicago Cubs this week.
"I'd say I don't envy teams that feel compelled to go to the free agent market to fill starting pitching needs," assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "I don't think we're compelled. We'll be opportunistic if the right deal is there, but I don't feel we enter the offseason feeling the need to sign free agent starting pitching."
Right now, the two best free agent pitchers could be Livan Hernandez, who is 9-7 with a 4.86 ERA for the Diamondbacks, and Carlos Silva, who is 9-12 with a 4.17 ERA for the Twins. Paul Byrd is 9-12 with a 4.41 ERA, but the Indians gave an $8 million option to him for 2008 and are expected to exercise.
Six of the most well-known potential free agent starters are currently on the disabled list: Bartolo Colon (elbow), Freddy Garcia (shoulder), Randy Wolf (shoulder), Jaret Wright (shoulder), Kenny Rogers (elbow) and Matt Clement (shoulder). Jason Jennings (elbow) and Curt Schilling (shoulder) have also been on the disabled list this year.
"There is significant risk," Levine said.
Hot Cat on the Bench:
Frank Catalanotto had the day off against Twins left-hander Johan Santana on Sunday, but he has been swinging a hot bat lately. Since Aug. 1, he is hitting .404 to raise his batting average from .228 to .261. He has a .472 on-base percentage and a .746 slugging percentage in that stretch.
He has also been leading off for the Rangers and has reached base in the first inning in nine of his last 12 games at the top of the order. That includes two leadoff home runs.
No defense for Botts:
Sammy Sosa started at designated hitter on Sunday with a left-hander on the mound. Washington said he thought about using Jason Botts in left field but resisted the idea because the Metrodome roof/background can be extremely difficult for an inexperienced outfielder.
"I'm not afraid to put him in against Santana, but I just want to make sure we have the best defense possible."
He said it:
"It's nice to have this influx of starting pitching. Things were bad in the beginning, but they're starting to work their way out in the end." -- Washington, on the current state of the Rangers starting pitching
Saturday's Minor stars:
Gold: Right-hander Evan Reed, the Rangers' third-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in Class A Clinton's 4-0 victory over Peoria. He ended up pitching a one-hitter and struck out three in his first game for the LumberKings.
Silver: Class A Spokane pitcher Jacob Brigham threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory over Boise. He allowed three hits, walked four and struck out five.
Bronze: Michael Ortiz was 3-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs scored and Engel Beltre was 2-for-5 with a double, triple and three runs scored for the Arizona Rookie Rangers in a 16-8 victory over the Padres.
Saturday's shutout was the Rangers' fourth in their last 10 games in the Metrodome. They have 14 shutouts in Minnesota in franchise history, the second most against any club on the road. They have 15 against the Angels in Anaheim. ... Rangers cleanup hitters went into Sunday's game with 16 home runs, tied for ninth in the American League.
Right-hander Vicente Padilla opens a three-game series for the Rangers against the Baltimore Orioles at 6:05 p.m. CT on Monday at Camden Yards. Right-hander Daniel Cabrera pitches for the Orioles.