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Saturday, April 2, 2011
What to watch: Who steps up in late innings

By Richard Durrett

ARLINGTON, Texas -- For the first time in 2011, Rangers fans got to see how manager Ron Washington dealt with a bullpen that includes an extra arm, but no defined eighth-inning setup man.

Washington said before the Friday's game that he planned on "mixing and matching" his veterans in that eighth inning based on the lineup. And that he'd try a variety of guys to get the game to closer Neftali Feliz.

For the most part, the results were good. The bullpen gave up just one run (and though that one tied the score, the offense came back immediately and took care of it).

C.J. Wilson went 109 pitches in 5 2/3 innings. A walk with two outs in the sixth forced Washington to go to the bullpen sooner than he wanted. He brought in Mark Lowe, who struggled this spring. Lowe went with a steady diet of changeups and fastballs to Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and got a ground out to the mound.

"I wanted to keep him off-balance and it worked out," Lowe said. "It was important to get in and out. Now I want to keep rolling with it and ride the wave."

Washington wanted to save his veteran lefties, but also wanted some experience in that sixth inning.

"He’s one of our most experienced guys down there especially at that point of the game," Washington said. "We have a lot of confidence in Mark and he came in and he got us that out and gave us an opportunity to give the ball to Arthur and to Oliver and it worked out."

Arthur Rhodes, the veteran lefty who had a sore left wrist to end spring, came in and got through the seventh. Washington then faced some choices in the eighth. With the Rangers up one, he could have brought in Darren O'Day to pitch to the right-handed Kevin Youkilis and then Darren Oliver for left-handed hitters Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz. But Oliver showed last year he could get hitters from both sides and Washington brought him in. He got two outs and then gave up the solo homer to Ortiz. Oliver said it was a fastball away that got too much of the plate. But Oliver was pleased overall with how the relievers performed.

"I thought we did well," Oliver said. "We held it to the end and gave us a chance to win."

The Rangers' bats certainly helped, turning the tie game into a 9-5 lead, allowing Feliz to get the final three outs in a non-save situation.

"With these guys nobody’s out of a game with this offense," Oliver said. "Look what they did to Josh Bard. He's got great stuff and that was something special. He’s throwing about 98 [mph] I’m throwing about 88. It can happen to anybody."

So of the eight-man bullpen, we saw four of them on Friday. It will be interesting to see how Washington approaches those final few innings in close games to get the game to Feliz. He isn't sure what he's got and has to find out. Lowe likely earned some more time. But at some point soon, Washington will see how Pedro Strop handles the pressure. Stay tuned.