Tepesch inching closer to fifth-starter's job

Despite rough outing, Rangers prospect takes away positives in loss to Rockies

Tepesch inching closer to fifth-starter's job

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- After allowing eight runs in five-plus innings against the Rockies on Friday, Rangers rookie pitcher Nick Tepesch offered a quick review of what appeared to be his toughest test of the spring.

"I fell behind a lot of hitters, and when I went inside, I didn't get it far enough in," Tepesch said after the Rangers' 14-9 loss. "They were getting the inside strike, so I probably should have gone farther inside. I felt comfortable with all my pitches. It was just one of those days."

One of those days? That seemed to be quite the understatement.

This seemed to be more than just another day for a 24-year-old right-hander from the University of Missouri who is ranked the club's No. 18 prospect by MLB.com. As events have unfolded in the Rangers' clubhouse over the past couple of days, this seemed like it could be a day when Tepesch seized a spot in a Major League rotation.

"I'm just going out there every day and doing what I can," Tepesch said. "I try not to worry about that kind of stuff and do my job."

The tide started moving in Tepesch's direction on Thursday afternoon, when the Rangers announced that Robbie Ross would be going to the bullpen. That knocked out another candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation, and the club announced on Friday morning that Justin Grimm and Randy Wells were being sent to Triple-A.

With Kyle McClellan and Martin Perez out until at least May, the only person in camp to challenge Tepesch for the fifth spot is Derek Lowe, and he is still playing catch-up after signing just two weeks ago.

The fifth-starter possession arrow seems to be pointing in Tepesch's direction, and that may still be the case. The Rangers aren't ready to anoint Tepesch yet, probably because they don't want him easing up and cruising as the spring comes to an end. He still has at least one more start left, most likely on Wednesday against the Angels in Tempe.

Tepesch spent Thursday afternoon pitching from the stretch, putting runners on base in every inning. He faced 28 batters, and 15 reached base on 12 hits and three walks. He allowed runs in four of six innings, leaving the game with the bases loaded with no outs and an 8-6 lead in the top of the sixth.

"He battled," manager Ron Washington said. "They were swinging the bats well. If he made a pitch in the wrong spot, they put good wood on it. He battled into the sixth inning and then just ran out of gas."

Tepesch threw 94 pitches, the most by a Rangers starter in a game this spring, but he insisted, "I felt pretty strong the whole game. I felt comfortable."

A leadoff walk to Tyler Colvin in the second was not good. One reason why Tepesch has emerged as the top candidate for the fifth spot is because he has been fearless this spring in throwing strikes, but that walk led to three runs and a 3-0 lead for the Rockies.

In the fourth, the Rockies put together three straight one-out singles to make it 4-0. The Rangers struck back with four in the bottom of the inning, but Tepesch couldn't keep it there. He gave up a one-out double to Wilin Rosario, and after Colvin grounded out, Nolan Arenado hit a high pop-up down the right-field line that dropped in for an RBI single.

That made it 5-4 before the Rangers scored four more in the bottom of the inning. That gave Tepesch an 8-5 lead going into the top of the sixth, but his day ended after Yorvit Torrealba singled to right for his third hit of the game, Reid Brignac walked and Eric Young lined an RBI single to center. Ben Rowen took over for Tepesch.

"The thing I looked at is how he reacted when adversity hit, and I thought he reacted well," Washington said. "Especially for a young pitcher, it's how he reacts to adversity, and I thought he kept coming back. He kept pounding the strike zone."

But Washington is still holding off naming Tepesch as the fifth starter. Lowe allows him to do that. Lowe has made three starts for the Rangers and is up to 60 pitches. He could make two more starts -- including one in extended spring training after Opening Day -- and be up to 90 pitches when the Rangers need a fifth starter on April 9 against the Rays.

The Rangers would rather have Lowe in the bullpen. They are ready to commit to Tepesch as their fifth starter. They just aren't ready to make the official announcement.

"I just want him to keep pitching," Washington said. "That's it."

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.