Rotation competition begins to heat up

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Three spots are up for grabs in the Texas Rangers' starting rotation and the competition begins to really heat up with today's game against the Kansas City Royals.

And really, it's more like only two spots are open because Brandon Webb, the 2006 Cy Young Award winner, will be inserted into the rotation once his shoulder is deemed game-ready, perhaps shortly after Opening Day.

"I think every time you touch that rubber, you go out there on that field and you’re competing against a different opponent it’s competitive," manager Ron Washington said. "So it’s on the way."

Colby Lewis, the club's set-in-stone No. 2 pitcher starts today, but it will get interesting in the third inning when lefty Michael Kirkman takes the hill for a scheduled two innings. He's the only other starting pitcher, or projected starting pitcher, scheduled to throw today. On Tuesday against Seattle, lefty Matt Harrison will get the two-inning start, and Tommy Hunter will start Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Angels.

Thursday is easily the most anticipated day of the week. The Rangers will play split-squad games that will feature AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz in his bid to make the rotation, and lefty Derek Holland. Both will throw two innings. Texas will play Cleveland in Surprise and the Cubs in Mesa. It's not certain if Feliz and Holland will be split up and start each game or if they will piggy-back one another at the same locale.

Starting pitchers are slated for two innings in their first two starts, then three innings and then four by their fourth start, so it's imperative that those fighting for a rotation spot leave an impression early in the process, much the way C.J. Wilson, this season's Opening Day starter, seized his opportunity last spring.

"By the time we get to the middle of March I think there’ll be some paring down being done, or already has been done," Washington said. "So far each and every one of those guys that’s competing for those spots have left impressions. I just hope they keep it up and keep making it tough."