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Kirkman still in mix for No. 5 starter spot

Kirkman still in mix for No. 5 starter spot

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Left-hander Michael Kirkman threw 67 pitches over four innings in a Minor League game on Friday night. The increased workload was by design.

Kirkman has been the best pitcher in camp this spring and has locked up a job in the bullpen. But the Rangers are now beginning to wonder if Kirkman might be the answer as the No. 5 starter.

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The Rangers are still leaning strongly toward rookie right-hander Nick Tepesch, but Kirkman has not allowed a run in 11 Cactus League innings. He allowed four runs on six hits against Triple-A hitters from the Royals, but he did not walk a batter and struck out five.

"That's where it gets skewed a little bit," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "The line doesn't tell the truth. Those fields are pretty hard. They squared up some balls, but his fastball was good and his breaking ball was sharp. [George] Kottaras got two hits by rolling a few ground balls on a pool table and they went through."

Kirkman also found out he was tipping his pitches when working out of the stretch. He would rock back and forth three times when he was ready to throw a fastball, but just twice on offspeed pitches.

"That was an easy fix," Kirkman said.

Kirkman has been used strictly as a reliever at the Major League level over the past three seasons, but he has been a starter in the Minors. That includes 2010 at Triple-A Oklahoma City when he was the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year. He has the complete repertoire to be a starting pitcher.

"I think he has four plus pitches," manager Ron Washington said.

The Rangers biggest concern is bumping Kirkman from one role to the other at a time when he is pitching extremely well. The Rangers are expecting to need a fifth starter for no more than two months before Colby Lewis comes off the disabled list. The Rangers would also be taking away from the bullpen, which is still a bigger concern right now.

The Rangers have considered outside options and the Dodgers have extra starting pitching. They may try to deal either Ted Lily, Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang before the end of spring. The Rangers don't appear overly interested in Jon Garland, who opted out of his contract with the Mariners on Friday. Chris Young could be an option for somebody. Young has had a good spring for the Nationals, but is not going to make their Opening Day roster. He could opt out of his contract as early as Sunday.

The Rangers sent a scout to watch Kyle Lohse's latest simulated game in the Phoenix area, but club officials are still saying he is not an option right now.

At this point, Tepesch still has the inside track, but Kirkman is giving them something to think about.

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.

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