Evan Meek has a nice pitching resume highlighted by an All-Star trip in 2010. Michael Kirkman showed flashes in relief last year for the Texas Rangers. So did Tanner Scheppers.
The Rangers liked Coty Woods enough to snatch him in the Rule 5 draft. Josh Lindblom pitched in 74 games last year and will forever be remembered by some as the pitcher the Rangers picked up for Michael Young.
There’s no doubting the Rangers have some bullpen talent in camp in Surprise this year. And they have numbers too as more than a dozen pitchers are competing for what’s expected to be five available spots in the bullpen.
Just how those pieces will fit in remain to be seen. But the club is confident that they can make a rebuilt bullpen a strength of the team, just like it’s been in recent seasons.
“I like the possibilities,” Texas general manager Jon Daniels said. “I like the collection of arms we have competing for jobs. How exactly it settles in and who gets what roles, there’s still quite a bit of competition ahead of us. I feel good that we’re going to put together a good bullpen based on the options we have.”
With Joe Nathan and Jason Frasor the bullpen locks, the rest of the pitchers are competing for five spots. That number could drop to four if Robbie Ross doesn’t make the rotation. It figures to drop again when Joakim Soria is healthy.
That gives the Rangers what could be too much is a good thing. The guys vying for those spots realize that and know they need solid springs – regardless of the success they’ve had in the past. Making an impact early in the spring is important because the Rangers have so many pitchers in camp. Those who excel early will see more opportunities late.
The relievers know that too.
“We lost a lot of veteran talent from that bullpen last year,” said Kirkman, who pitched in 28 games and had a 3.82 ERA. “It’s a good group of guys here. There are five spots and 12 guys who could fill that hole. The competition is going to be pretty good.”
Kirkman and Ross could give the Rangers two left-handers in the bullpen. Kirkman, a former starter, is also valuable because he can give the Rangers multiple innings and could fill multiple roles.
Kirkman, who is out of options, comfortable with whatever the team wants him to do.
“I want to do whatever is going to help us win,” he said. “When they call my name I want to get the ball and chunk it to home plate.”
The Rangers have an idea what they have with Kirkman, Scheppers and Ross. That’s not the case for pitchers like Meek. In 2010 he was an All-Star with Pittsburgh but ended last season in the minors after he was designated for assignment.
Meek was slowed by shoulder problems following his breakout season but felt better towards the end of last year and like a lot of pitchers in camp, feels like he has something to prove.
He didn’t help his case Tuesday as he allowed five runs and retired just two batters against the Chicago White Sox. Still, Meek has found a comfort level with his new team.
“We’ve all kind of been through the same thing,” said Meek, who is slated to pitch again Thursday. “We’ve all had some success in the big leagues and we know the routine. It’s kind of a new life, a new change of scenery. We all know what’s going on and we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing. You just have to be accountable for you and perform.”
If the Rangers need someone who can pitch often, there’s no one who fills that role better than Lindblom. Joe Nathan led the Rangers in appearances in 2012 with 66.
Lindblom passed that number in his first year in the majors. He did so while pitching for both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. Now Lindblom is trying to get comfortable with a third team in less than a year.
Lindblom is another pitcher who gives the Rangers versatility. Before getting called up in 2011, he saved 17 games in the minors. The role doesn’t matter for him. Pitching in Arlington does.
“There’s really no role I’m more comfortable in than another,” said Lindblom, who allowed a run in 1 1/3 innings Tuesday. “There are 27 outs in the game and no out is more important than another. It doesn’t matter where you’re pitching. We’ve got a real cool mix here. You’re able to go the older guys for experience and some young guys too. We’re all going through this together.”