SAN ANTONIO -- Alexi Ogando needed one more strike to finish Spring Training with a flourish. With a runner on first and two outs in the fourth, Ogando was ahead 1-and-2 to Jedd Gyorko.
Ogando threw a strike and Gyorko hit a high fly ball to right. Ogando thought the inning was over -- but not in the baseball-makeshift Alamodome where the right-field foul pole is just 285 feet away from home plate. This was more toward right-center, but the playing dimensions favored Gyorko and the ball fell into the first couple of rows of the bleachers for a two-run home run.
"The only thing you can say is it was a home run in this stadium," Ogando said with a smile afterward. "In any other stadium that's probably a fly ball. But in this stadium it was a home run. Every day is a unique experience and this was one of them. But I felt very comfortable out there. The fans really seemed to enjoy the atmosphere."
Ogando came back to strike out Nick Hundley and his night was over after 78 pitches. In his final start of the spring, Ogando allowed three runs in four innings in the Rangers 5-4 victory over the Padres. Ogando walked three, struck out four and the only other hit was a no-doubt home run to deep center by Will Venable in the first.
"He gave up two hits, they just happen to be home runs," manager Ron Washington said. "Once again he had a little trouble corralling his fastball but they certainly weren't hitting him. The last time he threw the ball extremely well [six scoreless innings against the Reds] and I expected he was going to do the same tonight. His fastball command was just a little off. But he threw the ball well enough to keep us in the game."
The two big issues for Ogando this spring were commanding the fastball and developing his changeup. The Rangers saw enough of both to believe he is ready to return to the rotation after a year in the bullpen.
"He has progressed from the first time he took the ball until now," Washington said. "Tonight wasn't one of his better nights but he got us through four and probably five even though he didn't have his best stuff. He walked some guys but he also was able to pitch around them."
Ogando finishes Spring Training with a 3.55 ERA while opponents hit .213 off him. The only alarming statistic was 15 walks in 25 1/3 innings, which averages out to 5.3 per nine innings. Ogando averages 2.5 walks per nine innings over 276 2/3 innings in his Major League career.
Ogando said he is not concerned about his command and is happy with the way his changeup has come around. He no longer has to rely strictly on the fastball and slider the way he did as a reliever. He was able to get Yonder Alonso to ground into a double play in the fourth inning off of a changeup.
"My command is there," Ogando said. "I worked very hard in Spring Training on the changeup and I think the results showed it paid off. When I wanted to induce a ground ball I used my changeup and the results were good."
He is scheduled to make his first start on Wednesday against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. That will be the real test of where he is -- but the Rangers are encouraged by what they saw in Spring Training.
Up next: The Rangers play their last Spring Training game when they face the Padres at 1:05 p.m. CT on Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Derek Holland makes his last start for the Rangers before pitching the home opener on Friday at the Ballpark in Arlington. Holland is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA in three Cactus League starts and also pitched for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.
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.Less