Harrison to start Rangers opener; Ross to bullpen

Harrison to start Rangers opener; Ross to bullpen

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Matt Harrison has been named the Rangers' starter for Opening Day, and Robbie Ross has been told he is going back to the bullpen. The Rangers made both moves official on Thursday, with Harrison being accorded the honor of leading the staff into the season.

Harrison will start against the Astros on March 31, and manager Ron Washington said he will also start the home opener on April 5 against the Angels.

"It's awesome. ... It's definitely an honor to be the Opening Day starter," Harrison said. "With the other guys on the staff who deserve it just as much, it's pretty cool. Yu [Darvish] deserves it just as much as I do."

Darvish, who is over his neck problems, will follow Harrison as the Rangers' No. 2 starter. Alexi Ogando and Derek Holland will come after that, but the Rangers have not yet announced who will pitch first.

That leaves the fifth spot still open, and Nick Tepesch pitches against the Rockies on Friday with another chance to nail down the job. The Rangers haven't anointed him as such because he still has two starts left in Spring Training.

But Tepesch has the clear lead as Spring Training comes to a close, and the Rangers are starting to give him preferential treatment in pitching assignments. Tepesch is 0-1 with a 3.45 ERA in two starts and two relief appearances this spring. He has pitched 13 innings and allowed five runs, 12 hits, three walks and fanned 10.

There are three other candidates for the rotation in Justin Grimm, Randy Wells and Derek Lowe. Ross was a candidate for the rotation, but the Rangers have decided to put him back in the bullpen, where he was effective as a setup reliever in 2012.

Of the remaining candidates, Tepesch is the one getting the start on Friday and being used on regular rest. Wells hasn't pitched since March 14 against the Athletics, while Grimm has yet to pitch over three innings in an outing this spring.

Lowe made his third start on Thursday night against the Angels, and the Rangers are starting to consider him as a rotation possibility. But if Tepesch finishes strong, Lowe could end up in the bullpen as a middle reliever/spot starter and fill the role that Scott Feldman held down last season.

"We're going to keep him stretched out," Washington said.

Ross is 2-0 with a 3.07 ERA in three starts and two relief appearances this spring, but the Rangers have decided he will join Michael Kirkman to give them two left-handers in the bullpen. They join closer Joe Nathan and right-hander Jason Frasor, leaving three spots still unclaimed. Ross pitched a scoreless inning in a Minor League game on Thursday.

"If you look at the makeup of our bullpen, we felt Robbie did a good job there," Washington said. "He's still trying to find his comfort zone as a starter, but at this point, we need to get him in a position to be where he can help us."

Harrison was doing his work in a Minor League game for Triple-A Round Rock on Thursday against the Mariners' Triple-A team. Harrison pitched six innings and allowed one run on four hits. He did not walk a batter, struck out six and finished with 93 pitches.

"It was a very comfortable 93 pitches," Washington said.

Harrison's next start is scheduled for Tuesday against the White Sox.

Darvish, who was scratched from Monday's start against the Royals because of a stiff neck, threw in the bullpen on Thursday without problems. He is scheduled to pitch Saturday against the Reds in Goodyear, and against Mexico City on March 28 at the Ballpark in Arlington. His first regular-season start will be on April 2 against the Astros in Houston.

Ogando's next start is on Sunday against the Reds in Surprise, while Holland will pitch Monday against the Padres in Peoria.

The Rangers also announced on Thursday that pitcher Yoshinori Tateyama has been released from his Minor League contract and has become a free agent. He wants to find a Major League job.

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.