TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Rangers outscored their opponents, 85-58, in the eighth inning last year. That underscores the advantage they enjoyed with a setup relief group led by right-handers Mike Adams, Koji Uehara and Alexi Ogando.
Adams and Uehara are gone, and Ogando is in the rotation. So the Rangers are looking at a new combination for that situation and it could be the two left-handers -- Michael Kirkman and Robbie Ross -- who could be asked to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning on Sunday night in the season opener against the Astros.
"If that's the case, right out of the shoot, it would be Robbie Ross or Kirkman," manager Ron Washington said.
Jason Frasor is another option, but Kirkman has had the most impressive spring of any Rangers pitcher. He went into Wednesday's game against the Angels having not allowed a run or a walk in nine innings in Cactus League games. Ross, who came into camp as a rotation candidate, has also turned it up since being told he was going back to the bullpen.
The Rangers also briefly considered Kirkman for the rotation, but decided they want him in the back of their bullpen in front of closer Joe Nathan.
"Either way is a win-win," Kirkman said. "When I came into the spring, I never thought I would get a glimmer of a chance to be in the rotation. Whether I'm in the rotation or the bullpen, I'm still on the team. That was my ultimate goal."
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.