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Spring training preview: Late-inning setup

1/27/2014

Note: Spring training will arrive before you know it. To get you ready, we'll take a look at every position between now and February, when pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Ariz.

Today's position: Late-inning setup

We have talked about the guys who could make a mark in long relief and now we turn our attention to later in the game. That part of the bullpen is a bit undecided because the club has yet to name a closer. We'll get to that tomorrow.

The good news for the Rangers is that they have plenty of options for what they want to do in the seventh and eighth innings to get the ball to the closer. Tanner Scheppers was one pitcher that had that job last year and did it well. Scheppers had a great start to the season, posting an ERA under 1.00 for the first two months of the season. He struggled at times in June, July and August, but bounced back in September. Scheppers comes into spring training stretched out as a starter, but that doesn't mean he won't end up back in the bullpen.

Joakim Soria is one of a few Rangers with closing experience, but if he doesn't close, he could certainly handle late-inning relief. He returned to the Rangers late in the season and ended up with 23 2/3 innings pitched and a 3.80 ERA with a 1.325 WHIP. With an entire offseason of being healthy, Soria should get even better next season.

Neftali Feliz is another late-inning option and the favorite to close (we'll get into that more tomorrow). Younger pitchers could also make a mark and we'll see how Neal Cotts is used. He showed last year that he could handle a variety of different situations after going 8-3 with a 1.11 ERA. He was one of the best stories of the year, returning to the big leagues for the first time since 2009 and having success.

OUTLOOK: Texas has developed some viable internal candidates for the setup role and has some arms that pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins can rely on. It should be a strength of this team in 2014.