SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers' "fourth" starter had his best outing of the spring on Wednesday afternoon.
Alexi Ogando broke out a devastating slider and an effective changeup in pitching three strong innings during a 3-2 victory over the Cubs at Surprise Stadium. Ogando allowed one run on two hits while striking out six.
Ogando entered the game with an 8.10 ERA in his first two outings, having allowed 10 of 19 batters to reach base.
"I didn't really concern myself with that," Ogando said. "It's part of the process. You don't have good outings all the time, so it's good to get the bad ones out of the way early. That's why you're working hard every day."
Ogando's only real transgression on Wednesday was walking the leadoff hitter. He retired the side in order in the fifth but walked the leadoff hitter in the sixth and seventh. Ogando said it was a lack of concentration, while manager Ron Washington said it was a lack of fastball command.
"He's got to command his fastball," Washington said. "He got a couple of strikeouts on his changeup and his slider was good. His fastball command was spotty a little bit but his other stuff was there. He has to learn to pitch when he doesn't have his best fastball and he did that today."
Ogando was a 13-game winner and an All-Star as a starter in 2011 before being moved to the bullpen last season. The Rangers brought him to camp this spring with the intention of putting him back into the rotation and nothing has happened to change their minds.
"Ogando is our fourth starter," Washington said after Wednesday's game. "In Spring Training you have to get better each time out and each time he has taken the mound, he's been getting better."
Ogando, holding a 3-1 lead, started his afternoon by getting Junior Lake on a grounder to short, Edwin Maysonet on a strikeout and Steve Clevenger on a fly ball to center in the fifth. Then he started the sixth with a walk to David DeJesus and a run-scoring double to Brian Bogusevic. That's when Ogando starting mixing in his other pitches -- especially the slider -- and he struck out three straight hitters.
"My slider was very good today," Ogando said. "It's my second pitch after my fastball and sometimes when my fastball is not working, I use my slider more. It was much better today."
Ogando got into another mess in the seventh when he walked Dioner Navarro and then gave up an infield single to Lake. Ogando's throwing error on a pickoff throw moved the runners to second and third, but the Cubs did not score.
Maysonet flied out to center and then Ogando struck out the next two hitters to end the inning. Ogando's day ended with 54 pitches, including 34 for strikes.
Ogando's outing came after Robbie Ross advanced his cause for the fifth spot in the rotation, holding the Cubs to one run in four innings. He allowed a home run to Scott Hairston the first inning but that was it. He allowed four hits, did not walk a batter and struck out one.
"The first inning, obviously that home run, I could have done without that," Ross said. "But after that I settled down and just tried to throw strikes."
Ross is emerging as the clear leader in the fifth-starter competition. The Rangers are still looking at veteran Randy Wells, and rookie Nick Tepesch has been impressive. The Rangers have also not ruled out Kyle McClellan, if he can get over his shoulder problems.
But Ross has clearly outpitched the competition, one more reason why the Rangers remain adamantly opposed to signing free-agent pitcher Kyle Lohse. They may sign Derek Lowe, but that would only be to a Minor League contract as a bullpen candidate.
The Rangers may need more bullpen candidates but they left the ballpark on Wednesday feeling good about their rotation.
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.