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Monday, March 28, 2011
A look at the decisions that remain

By Richard Durrett

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- As spring training ends today, the Rangers still have some questions to answer in regards to the roster. Here's a look:

* Who is the fifth starter? The leading candidate is Alexi Ogando, who is being stretched out to start and is scheduled to pitch against Coastal Carolina on Tuesday in Myrtle Beach, S.C. If he ends up in the rotation, that creates some more questions in the bullpen.

* How many spots are available in the pen? Well, that depends. First, let's assume the club goes with a 12-man staff, which means seven bullpen spots. If Ogando is in the rotation, that leaves four pitchers fighting for two spots: Mason Tobin, Brett Tomko, Pedro Strop and Mark Lowe. Tobin is a Rule 5 pick, so if he isn't on the active roster, the Rangers risk losing him. Tomko is on a minor league deal and doesn't have an out until June. Strop and Lowe have options. The Rangers will let it play out for a few more days.

The club is exploring all options, and that includes carrying eight relievers. The club could elect to use one of those relievers as a starter at times in the first month or two of the season if needed. If the team keeps eight, that means three of the four remaining candidates can make the roster. But keeping eight also means shortening the bench, so I think it's a long shot. Julio Borbon should break with the club if he's healthy (and he played Sunday). So how does the club shorten the bench in that scenario? They could go with Mike Napoli as the backup catcher and leave Matt Treanor off. But they like Treanor's catching ability and the insurance of having him on the bench. Again, that seems unlikely. UPDATE: Apparently this was more likely than I let on. The club traded Treanor to Kansas City this morning.

* Tobin, to me, is on this team. He's pitched well and the club doesn't want to lose him. Lowe will get some more chances this week to impress. He put up zeroes in his last outing, so we'll see. Strop has had the better spring, so he could get on the roster and Lowe could end up in Triple-A to work on his stuff, which includes a curve that he's learning.

* What about Tomko? Dave Bush is on the team, so the club doesn't need to carry both of them. But if you're wondering how to keep Ogando as the eighth-inning setup role and bolster the bullpen some, what about starting Tomko? Not likely, but just a thought.

Keep in mind that this fifth starter spot could be temporary. The club could have a look at Ogando and see how he does. Then, when Tommy Hunter or Brandon Webb are ready -- or if Michael Kirkman or Eric Hurley push their way in the discussion -- the team can look at the options. If Ogando is struggling, he could always end up back in the bullpen.

Anyway, we'll see how it all sorts out. One way or the other, the club will be ready come Friday.