Kirkman expects to factor into '11 Ranger rotation

BY foxsports • February 11, 2011

By Steve Hunt

February 11, 2011

2010 was a pretty good year for Michael Kirkman. The 6-foot-3, 24-year-old southpaw was 13-3 in 24 games, 22 of those starts with a 3.09 ERA and 130 strikeouts with Triple-A Oklahoma. So it wasn't a big shock when he got called up to Arlington in August.

But Kirkman wasn't brought up to the Rangers to be a starter. Instead, he was sent to the bullpen, where in 14 relief appearances, he had a 1.65 ERA in just over 16 innings of work. The Florida native also made one appearance in the American League Championship Series and also appeared in two games during the 2010 World Series against the Giants.

"It was something else, man. I would never have imagined anything happened to me like that. I had a terrific year in Triple-A, and then when I got called up, it was just beyond my belief," Kirkman said during Ranger Fan Fest in January. "I never thought it would happen. And then I go up there and start believing I'd have some success. I really never thought that would happen. Then, we end up going to the playoffs and I made the LCS roster. I pitched pretty good there and then pitched in the World Series. It's just beyond belief."

After a productive 2010 the savvy lefty also made no bones about his goals for the 2011 season.

"I want to make the starting rotation this year. That's my goal," Kirkman said. "Well, last year, Wash set me down in his office and said I'd be competing for one of those spots next year. If that's still the case, then I plan to be there."

The fifth-round pick in the 2005 draft will vie for the fifth spot in the rotation, a berth he could compete with the likes of Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and maybe even Alexi Ogando for.

"I'd say 3, 4 or maybe even 5 guys [will be competing for that spot]," Kirkman said. "I don't even begin to know who it would be."

And if the young lefty had his way, he'd be on the mound tomorrow.

"I'm anxious, man, especially after coming out here and going to the ballpark to work out these last few days," Kirkman said. "I'm ready to go. I could go right now."

Even though he was a Ranger for only about three months last year, he feels like he got a great deal out of the experience, specifically from the many lessons he learned from club pitching coach Mike Maddux.

"Well, Mike is an in-your-head type of guy and I like that. He likes to know what you're thinking, why you're thinking that and what you're going to do to change that thinking if it needs to be changed. I like that," Kirkman said. "He's really good at what he does."

And yes, he even got a few tricks of the trade from Cliff Lee during his short time in Arlington last fall.

"I talked to him a couple of times about pitching but most of all, it was just about his thought processes in different counts, different hitters. If somebody has had success off of him, what he does to kind of counteract that. I got a little bit of info out of him and feel it's going to help me a lot," he said.

When Kirkman was asked if he'd prefer to start or come out of the pen in 2011, he offered a pretty matter of fact response.

"I definitely feel more comfortable as a starter but it doesn't matter as long as I'm here. I really want to pitch in the big leagues," he said.

But should he head to the bullpen, he would again benefit from pitching alongside such veteran relievers like Darren Oliver and recent addition Arthur Rhodes.

"If that's the case, then that will be a good learning experience for me. You've got two guys with 35 or 40 years experience combined. That's a lot of knowledge to take in," Kirkman said. "Hopefully I can build off of that and take something from them."

After a 2010 where he got his first taste of life in the show, the left-hander admits his mindset isn't too terribly different heading into this year's spring training compared to where it was just one year ago.

"Yeah, it's the same excitement, especially after what we did last postseason. The bugs aren't there for the same reason they were there last year. Last year, I had no idea what to expect," Kirkman said. "I didn't know what everybody did day-to-day. Now I do, so the bugs are going to be different. They're going to be there because I want to get the season started."

With the expectation of throwing more innings at the big-league level in 2011, this up-and-coming Ranger did change his off-season regimen a bit.

"No, it was my usual regimen. I've just been getting my arm in better shape this year because I know I'm going to be in for more innings this year hopefully," Kirkman said. "So I'm just getting my long tossing in right now. My workouts are going good. Running is going good with no snags yet."

But one thing is for sure, he doesn't want to head back to Triple-A.

"Yeah, that's definitely the hope. I hope that's the case but we'll see what happens," Kirkman said.