Positional outlook: Long/middle relief

We shift our attention to the bullpen as the positional outlooks continue. It's difficult, at times, to assign roles to specific players when it comes to the relief slots. But we'll take each position as it is and try to predict who might end up there.

Manager Ron Washington will tell you how critical it is to have pitchers you can trust to help get the game to the seventh inning. Obviously, the preference is the starter do that for you. But too often, that won't happen. That's when the middle and long relievers can make a huge difference.

To determine who those relievers might be, the club has to s0rt through the competition for the No. 5 spot. If C.J. Wilson or Neftali Feliz, don't make it, they'll end up with late-inning bullpen roles (Feliz could be used as a multi-inning guy in the sixth and seventh). But what about the long list of other names, like Derek Holland, Brandon McCarthy and Matt Harrison. One or more could end up in the bullpen to start the season.

Two stalwarts that helped this club in 2009, return in 2010: Doug Mathis and Dustin Nippert. Nippert, 28, provided Washington with a guy that could handle innings if a starter got roughed up early and a guy who could spot start, if necessary. Don't underestimate that kind of value. Thanks to injuries, Nippert was needed more as a starter than the team anticipated. He pitched 69 2/3 innings in 2009 with 50 1/3 of them coming in 10 starts. As a reliever, Nippert was 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA in 19 1/3 innings (10 appearances). All but three of Nippert's relief appearances were at least 1 2/3 innings. Nippert wasn't flashy, but he got the job done. Opponents batted .245 against him (just .197 in relief appearances).

Mathis, 26, pitched 42 2/3 innings for the Rangers in 2009 (starting in June). He made two starts and neither was particularly memorable. But as a long reliever, he was solid. Mathis had one save and a 2.14 ERA in 33 2/3 relief innings. He had 21 strikeouts and eight walks in the bullpen and opponents hit .218 against him.

Others could end up making an important contribution in the middle/long relief spots. It just depends who end up in the rotation. Holland went back-and-forth between the rotation and the bullpen for part of the 2009 season and was 2-1 with a 5.48 ERA in 21 1/3 innings. If Holland, who is back on the mound after missing a week with a knee sprain, doesn't win the No. 5 job, the club must decide if he's better off in the bullpen or starting every fifth day in Triple-A Oklahoma City.

McCarthy could also end up in the bullpen should he not earn the fifth starting spot. Injuries have been McCarthy's biggest issue since he was traded for Texas, but he was pitching well last season when it was discovered that his shoulder blade was fractured for the second consecutive season.

As general manager Jon Daniels points out: You can never have too much pitching depth. That means other pitchers could be in and out of the bullpen this season, especially in mutli-inning roles. Guillermo Moscoso, Luis Mendoza and Warner Madrigal (who is dealing with forearm stiffness this period) are on the 40-man and in camp. Moscoso made five appearances in September last year and all were Rangers losses. But he had a 1.59 ERA, including 2 1/3 shutout innings against the Angels to finish the season and give him some momentum.

Mendoza arrived at camp feeling good about his pitches. He's been almost forgotten about, but he has a solid sinker and says he's gained more confidence with his curve during winter ball. We'll see if he can make some kind of statement this spring. Willie Eyre is also in camp, but is currently not on the 40-man roster. And others could also find a way into the mix.

It will be interesting to watch how things shake out for this group this spring.