Michael Kirkman working on his curve

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Don't let the quiet, unassuming demeanor of Michael Kirkman fool you. Inside, there's a competitor desperately wanting to show he belongs in the major leagues.

Kirkman has spent the offseason evaluating his game and working on some specific things he feels he needs to do in order to make the rotation. First on that list: refining his curveball.

Kirkman didn't use the pitch very much in the bullpen in 2010 and didn't really have to. He's got a fastball that has good location, a slider and a changeup which he felt improved as the season progressed. But he only threw a few curveballs when the pressure was at its highest.

"I know I'm going to need that pitch to start," Kirkman said. "I have to be able to get guys out on both sides of the plate and be able to change things up, and the curve can help me do that."

Kirkman was called up to the big leagues in the middle of August after going 13-3 with a 3.09 ERA in 24 games (22 starts) for Triple-A Oklahoma City. He was so good, in fact, that he was named the PCL Pitcher of the Year. Kirkman appeared in 14 games for the Rangers -- all in relief -- and had a 1.65 ERA with 16 strikeouts and 10 walks. He pitched in three postseason games and gave up one earned run on four hits (a 3.38 ERA).

Kirkman will be one guy to watch in the race for one of the final rotation spots this spring.