Ogando headed to Rangers' bullpen

Ogando headed to Rangers' bullpen

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers pitcher Alexi Ogando started a game on Wednesday afternoon. It could well be the last game he starts for some time.

At some point in the next day or two, manager Ron Washington is going to sit down with Ogando and tell him that he is headed for the bullpen. Ogando has been bracing for the possibility since an earlier meeting this spring.

"I wasn't anticipating it before, but now I am," Ogando said. "Whatever they ask me to do ... I am a team player."

He made it clear what he wants to do.

"Starter," Ogando said. "I like being a starter. I like being the man. That's what I want to do, but I have no control over that."

The Rangers are holding off their final decision on their rotation until Thursday. Neftali Feliz came out of his four-inning outing in a Minor League start Tuesday night without any problems in his right shoulder, but the Rangers want to see him throw his bullpen session on Thursday.

If that goes without problem, the Rangers will set their pitching staff with Feliz as the fifth starter and Ogando in the bullpen. Scott Feldman, whose 17 wins in 2009 are the most in a Major League season by any pitcher in camp, is also expected to be in the bullpen.

"We can only carry five guys; we can't carry seven," Washington said. "We have seven quality starters, we can only take five in the rotation. Ogando happens to be the one who is versatile. That's it in a nutshell. He is a very special weapon. He can do both very well. He can make whatever adjustments have to be made."

Ogando is the only pitcher in camp who has been selected to the All-Star Game as a starter. He was 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA last season, a record that compares favorably to the Cardinals' Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.39), the Indians' Justin Masterson (12-10, 3.21), the Royals' Bruce Chen (12-8, 3.77), the Astros' Wandy Rodriguez (11-11, 3.49), the Twins' Carl Pavano (9-13, 4.40) and the A's Brandon McCarthy (9-9, 3.32).

There is one difference. All those other pitchers have been selected to start on Opening Day as the team's No. 1 starter. Ogando is finishing in sixth place at Rangers camp.

"I don't think about that," Ogando said. "This is my team."

Ogando was used as a reliever in 2010 and was quite good. He appeared in 44 games, going 4-1 with a 1.30 ERA while opponents hit .208 off him. But the Rangers also remember what he did in the playoffs last year, especially in the first two rounds vs. the Rays and the Tigers. Against those two teams, Ogando was 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA in seven games. Opponents hit .114 off him. He was invaluable in getting the Rangers to the World Series and Washington envisions a similar role again.

"If he goes to the bullpen, he will be the bridge -- a multi-inning guy who gets us to the back end of our bullpen," Washington said.

Ogando and Feldman could also stabilize a bullpen that still has some uncertainty in the waning days of Spring Training. Right now, the bullpen includes Ogando, Feldman, closer Joe Nathan and reliever Mike Adams. That leaves eight pitchers fighting for three remaining spots in the bullpen: right-handers Mark Lowe, Koji Uehara, Yoshinori Tateyama, Tanner Schepper and Greg Reynolds, and left-handers Michael Kirkman, Robbie Ross and Neal Cotts.

That group went into Wednesday's game against the Royals with a combined ERA of 5.74, while opponents were hitting .291 off them.

Ogando was stretched out in Spring Training in case of an injury to someone destined for the rotation, but that hasn't happened. Feliz had some shoulder tightness that forced him out of a start on March 20 after three innings. But he was pushed back just two days and had no trouble through four innings in a Minor League game against the Royals on Tuesday night.

Feliz did give up three runs in the second inning, but after a chat with pitching coach Mike Maddux, he held the Royals' Double-A hitters scoreless through the next two. Maddux told him to quit pushing the ball to the plate.

"The first two innings, we weren't sure he was feeling well," Washington said Wednesday. "Then he started to let it go and he came in today feeling good."

Feliz has been a reliever the past 2 1/2 years, but he did start in the Minors, and the Rangers are convinced he can make a smooth transition into the rotation. His next start is on Sunday, the Rangers' final day in Arizona.

"He's done it before, and he's proven he has the pitches," Washington said. "Now it's up to him to get them together and do what he has to do to maintain it. His secondary pitches have been good, especially his changeup, and he has shown the ability to throw his breaking ball behind in the count. The thing I liked even before he had his hiccup was he was throwing strikes and using everything he had."

Ogando pitched in a Minor League game on Wednesday. He faced the Dodgers' Triple-A team and allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits, no walks and eight strikeouts. Washington watched him pitch and said Ogando had "great" secondary pitches.

"His breaking ball and changeup were outstanding," Washington said.

They should serve him well as a reliever.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.