McClellan gives Rangers intriguing option

Kyle McClellan is trying quickly to win over what he hopes is his new fan base with the Texas Rangers.

While McClellan played a role in St. Louis getting to the postseason in 2011, he’s quick to point out that his right arm played no role in the crushing blow to the Rangers that was the 2011 World Series.

McClellan is hoping to ease some of that pain this year by being a key member of the Texas pitching staff – either as a starter or a reliever.

“Being able to do both things is a plus for me,” McClellan said. “Right now my focus is just being healthy and showing I can contribute to a championship-type club. The roles and all that, those will come. I’m not worried about that.”

McClellan, who signed a minor-league deal with the Rangers, is being stretched out with the starters for now. He’s pitched in 261 games in the majors, but only 17 of those were starts and they all came in 2011.

He pitched in a career high 141 2/3 innings that year and the fatigue on his right arm led to the Cardinals leaving him off the World Series roster. A tough 2012 season followed that saw him pitch in just 16 games before going on the disabled list in May.

McClellan had surgery to repair a frayed labrum and a split in his right shoulder capsule last July. He showed up in Surprise early and said he’s 100 percent now.

McClellan, who has a March 22 out in his contract with the Rangers, isn’t scheduled to pitch against Kansas City this weekend. But McClellan, who is just 28 and already has five years of major-league experience, realizes how pivotal this season is for his career.

“You don’t want to be an injury guy and to do it two years in a row would put you in that category,” said McClellan, who won six games as a starter and six as a reliever for the Cardinals in 2011. “It’s important for me to stay healthy this year.”

That’s why he plans to work at his own pace this spring. He hasn’t been slowed but he realizes there’s a chance he’ll need an extra day or two between outings. He said the goal isn’t to be ready to pitch in spring; it’s to be ready for March 31 when the Rangers open the season.

He also doesn’t think the arm injury last year will impact the role he has with the Rangers if he makes the team. The doctor who performed his surgery last summer said his arm is healthy enough to hold up to the demands required of a starter.

“You go out and throw 100 pitches, whatever, but you’ve also got four days to recover,” McClellan said. “You can take it light on your bullpens and be ready to go that fifth day. Out of the bullpen, can you bounce back? You’re not throwing as long but you’re throwing more often. You’re getting hot and not used. You’re getting hot three or four times a game. There are plusses and minuses to both.”

Like he did with the Cardinals in 2011, McClellan could work in both roles with the Rangers, which could help his odds of making the team. With Colby Lewis just about a week away from throwing off the mound for the first time since his flexor tendon surgery last year, the Rangers might not need a No. 5 starter for long.

McClellan could fill that void early and then slide back into the bullpen.

Whatever his role, McClellan is happy with his new surroundings after spending 11 years in the St. Louis organization. He’s a Missouri native and feels like Texas has the same kind of Midwestern feel that he and his family are looking for.

That’s not the only reason he’s with Texas now though.

“This is a place to re-establish myself as a major-league pitcher,” he said. “I feel like there’s an opportunity here. I was pretty clear with my agent and with Jon Daniels when I spoke to him that I don’t want to be just insurance. I’m not to that point in my career yet. I want to be a guy you’re counting on and I got the sense I would be that if I signed here. The other part is they have a chance to win coming from where I came from it would be tough. This club has a chance to be in that group to have a chance to win. That’s important to me.”