Kirkman to make important outing in opener

Kirkman to make important outing in opener

Kirkman to make important outing in opener
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Colby Lewis and Scott Feldman will be on the mound for the Rangers when they open the Cactus League on Sunday against the Royals at 1:05 p.m. CT.

They will be followed by left-hander Michael Kirkman, and that might be the most important inning to watch at Surprise Stadium. Kirkman is one of the leading candidates to be the left-handed setup reliever in the Rangers' bullpen, and Sunday will be the first indication of how he will respond to a disappointing 2011 season.

"I just have to get outs," Kirkman said. "I can't go out there and try to impress anybody. That's when you mess up and put pressure on yourself. I want to do what I can do to get guys out as quick as possible."

Kirkman impressed in 2010. He was the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, he had a 1.65 ERA in 14 relief appearances for the Rangers and he was on the postseason roster. He did not impress in 2011. He had a 5.05 ERA at Round Rock, a 6.59 ERA on the Rangers and was not on the playoff roster.

The Rangers like Kirkman's arm and stuff. If he's on, he can get both left- and right-handed hitters out and not be just a one-batter situational guy. But he has to win the job by showing what he showed two years ago.

"I have to command the baseball," Kirkman said. "That's it. Pound the strike zone, make the hitters make a decision and let the guys behind me catch it."

His main competition for the left-handed setup role are Joe Beimel and Mitch Stetter, a couple of veterans who are in camp on non-roster invites. Beimel has been held back by stiffness in the left elbow but pitched live batting practice on Saturday. Stetter will pitch on Monday against the Royals.

Kirkman gets the first shot, and he knows this is an important spring for him.

"Absolutely, but I try not thinking about it when I'm on the mound," Kirkman said. "But it is. I'm working my tail off and trying not to leave this clubhouse until the whole team does."