THE NEWBERG REPORT — MARCH 20, 2006

Francisco Cordero is in, supported by righthanders Akinori Otsuka (who was really dirty Saturday night against Korea) and Joaquin Benoit, and left-handed specialist Brian Shouse. Three spots remain in the bullpen that Texas will run out there on April 3, ideally one more righthander who can pitch the back third of the game, a second southpaw, and a long man who can chew up innings if the starter gets chased early.

The righty, barring a trade, stands to be Antonio Alfonseca or Jose Silva, both of whom are off the roster, or Scott Feldman, who has all three of his options remaining. Jon Leicester is out of options but probably needs to pitch lights-out over the next two weeks to win a job.

The long man was supposed to be John Wasdin, but a rough spring (eight runs on 14 hits and three walks in 6.1 innings) has opened the door for R.A. Dickey and possibly another candidate or two. More on that in a bit.

The second lefthander in the pen is where the real issue is. Outside of the fifth starter, it’s probably the most interesting roster decision facing the Rangers.

Texas brought seven contestants to camp for left-handed spots in the pen: 40-man roster pitchers Shouse, Erasmo Ramirez, and C.J. Wilson; non-roster invites Kevin Walker, Ron Mahay, and Jesse Carlson; and Rule 5 acquisition Fabio Castro.

Carlson has already been reassigned to minor league camp. Ramirez is out of options but hasn’t been at his sharpest (four runs on six hits and a walk in 4.2 innings). Mahay has had control issues, issuing walks in five of his six appearances, including the March 1 intrasquad game (overall, five walks to go along with six hits in 7.1 frames).

That leaves, as contestants for the second job behind Shouse, three pitchers in different circumstances: Wilson, Walker, and Castro.

The decision on what to do with Wilson is interesting. One school of thought is to make him the Rangers’ version of White Sox lefty Neal Cotts, a power reliever who can go multiple innings and projects eventually to be a rotation fixture. Another is to option Wilson to Oklahoma and put him on the same schedule as the big club’s fifth starter, stretching him out with an eye toward bringing him up at some point to give the rotation its lone lefthander.

There remains an outside shot that Wilson could figure in at number five in Texas, too. In three weeks.

The 29-year-old Walker, an Irving native and Grand Prairie High School product, has been outstanding all spring (one run on two hits and one walk in seven innings, fanning nine), but chances are he’ll be assigned to AAA.

And that’s because the primary competition for Wilson at this point seems to be Castro, and not because the club believes he’s a better bet to get outs right now. It’s because the only way the 21-year-old can remain Ranger property into April is to make the Opening Day staff, while Wilson has options.

Jon Daniels jumped into the radio booth during yesterday afternoon’s game, noting that Castro has shown Texas a plus fastball, a plus change, and flashes (though inconsistent) of a plus curve. The club loves his makeup and poise as much as his ability to change speeds. And with the exception of one awful outing against Kansas City a week and a half ago, his results have been really good.

Daniels mentioned that there’s been a thought that Castro could be stretched out to see if he could handle the long man role himself. Moments after he said that, Adam Eaton took a second-inning Marquis Grissom line shot off his pitching forearm, and Castro entered the game. He’d go three innings, getting into a second run through an opponent’s lineup for the first time, and he was terrific, blanking the Cubs on two hits and no walks, punching out four. All five outs he got aside from the strikeouts came on the ground.

Here are the procedural alternatives as far as Castro is concerned:

1. He makes the team. Is it possible that he gets the long man spot that had been earmarked for Wasdin, or that Wilson gets that role, allowing Texas to suit both of them up for the opening series against Boston?

2. He lands on the disabled list. There’s a chance that some sort of injury pops up, but Rule 5 dictates that he must be active for at least 90 days during the 2006 season, or else open the 2007 season on the active big league roster and stay there until he’s been active for an aggregate of 90 days.

3. He gets traded. Don’t rule out the possibility that some other team will trade something to Texas in order to take Castro and assume the Rule 5 constraints.

4. He’s lost on waivers. Should the Rangers not find a way to make one of the first three alternatives work, they’ll have to run Castro through waivers. If he clears, they must offer him back to the White Sox for $25,000 but can instead try and work out a trade, by which they send Chicago something for the right to keep Castro on the farm. But forget that possibility. Castro won’t clear waivers.

One thing to keep in mind is that the decision on a Rule 5 pick is not set irreversibly as of Opening Day. Texas can open with Castro on the staff and, if it’s not working out, the club can try to run him through waivers during the season, recalling Wilson or Walker or Carlson or whomever at that point.

If he has another couple outings like he did yesterday, Castro is going to make this team. Toss out the bad Royals game on March 9 (five runs in two-thirds of an inning), and the 5’7" lefty has thrown 9.1 innings (including an intrasquad frame on February 28), allowing one run on seven hits and five walks, setting 11 down on strikes. His upside is big.

Preliminary X-rays on Eaton’s forearm were negative, and the club believes he escaped with nothing worse than a badly bruised muscle.

Righthander Frankie Francisco had a precautionary MRI on his elbow on Saturday after experiencing some soreness, and he was given a cortisone shot. He won’t throw for a couple days.

Laynce Nix is slated to make his first spring outfield appearance tomorrow, probably in a minor league game.

Texas reassigned righthander Rick Bauer to minor league camp.

Baserunners are 1 for 5 trying to steal with Rod Barajas behind the plate this spring, and 0 for 3 off of Gerald Laird.

Rudy Jaramillo left camp after yesterday’s game, flying to Dallas before he heads to New York for March 28 prostate cancer surgery.

Righthanders Shane Bazzell and Tanner McElroy are slated for Tommy John procedures.

According to Baseball America, Texas released righthander Ryan Bukvich, but I don’t think that’s right.

Daniels noted during yesterday’s radio broadcast that the Rangers will look to intensify their scouting efforts in the Pacific Rim this year.

Alfonso Soriano told reporters on Saturday that he plans to decide "in the next day or two" how he feels about playing for Washington.

According to a massively long story that appears in today’s Washington Post, when the Rangers and Nationals agreed to the parameters of the December deal that would send Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, and Armando Galarraga to Texas for Soriano, Washington general manager Jim Bowden asked for permission to first talk to Soriano before signing off on the trade. Texas said no, as was its right to do since Soriano was under contract. Bowden decided to make the deal anyway, assuming the very real risk that Soriano would refuse to move to the outfield.

Amazing.

Toronto righthander A.J. Burnett was taken to a hospital for an examination and an MRI of his right elbow after removing himself from Saturday’s game, one pitch into his second inning of work. The MRI showed no damage.

Friday’s live Newberg Report chat session with Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News is now posted at http://www.dickiethon.com/newberg/grant2006.htm.

The local papers are now confirming that it’s "Edinson" Volquez. He and Juan Dominguez might both pitch in Wednesday’s game, as the race for the number five spot intensifies. It seems unlikely that the runner-up in that competition will stick as the long man. Both righthanders have options and will likely begin the year pitching every fifth day, if not in Arlington then in Oklahoma City.

Juan Gonzalez signed a minor league deal with Boston. Spike Lundberg signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers.

San Diego optioned first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to AAA, Oakland optioned righthander Matt Roney to AAA, and Washington optioned Tyrell Godwin to AAA.

San Francisco reassigned Michael Tejera to minor league camp, and the Mets reassigned Matt Perisho to minor league camp.

New Cincinnati general manager Wayne Krivsky, who replaced former Rangers assistant GM Dan O’Brien, has eliminated the tandem starter program at the lower levels of the Reds’ minor league system.

San Diego vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson is requiring all Padres starting pitchers at Class A and below to throw a changeup every fifth pitch.

Class A and below is where Fabio Castro has spent his entire pro career. In his four seasons he’s struck out 10 batters per nine innings. In three weeks pitching for a major league team, he’s punched out 10.8 per nine innings.

The big question may be whether the Rangers think they can live with the increased walks (3.8 per nine vs. 4.5 per nine) and hittability (.190 vs. .263), both of which you’d expect from someone making that sort of jump, not only because of his ability to miss bats right now — on both sides of the plate — but because of the potential that left-handed arm has two and three years from now.

You can read more from Jamey Newberg at www.NewbergReport.com.

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