Robbie Ross beat the odds last season as a non-roster invitee to spring training and earned a spot in the Texas Rangers' bullpen. And he made the Rangers look good for keeping him, finishing the season as one of the better set-up men in baseball.
Fast forward to 2013 with Ross participating in his second spring training. This year he isn't collared with the uncertainty of whether he will have a major league job. He's out there having fun.
With the bullpen undergoing some turnover, Ross could easily settle for another year in a relief role. Instead, he's aiming higher, with his sights set directly on that open fifth spot in the rotation.
"I'd love to be in the rotation," Ross said, "but at the same time it's not like I'd be disappointed if I returned to the bullpen."
Ross had his first extended audition for the slot Wednesday and responded by tossing three solid innings. He allowed a few base runners but never got into serious trouble. The left-hander was one out away from completing a scoreless outing when Paul Konerko hit a two-run home run on a 3-2 fastball that landed on top of the left field wall and bounced over.
"It's still early, but at the same time I felt good," Ross said. "Sometimes I don't need to do all I can to get outs, I need to understand I have guys behind me who can make plays. Maybe I tried to be too fine and should have made him put it in play earlier. Instead, I fell behind in the count."
Top prospect Martin Perez may be emerging as the early leader in the competition for the fifth spot, but Ross is nipping at his heels. With Kyle McClellan sidelined during the spring games so far and Justin Grimm getting hit hard his last time out, Ross has an opportunity to gain an advantage.
If both Perez and Ross prove worthy of the final starting spot, Ross could end up back in the bullpen after proving to be so valuable in that role.
If Ross is called upon to start, he has plenty of experience, with 68 career minor league starts with a 2.88 ERA.
He'd like to add more starts to his career total, only this time at the major league level.