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Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Some pitching questions still need answers

By Richard Durrett

As the Texas Rangers enter the second full week of Cactus League games, they still have questions to answer about the rotation -- and the bullpen -- and how everything will shake out when the season starts. Here's my take on how things stand, with an interesting three weeks to go:

Matt Harrison
Matt Harrison's tight back earlier in camp has put him behind the other starters.
* Matt Harrison's tight back earlier in camp has put him behind the other starters. The good news is that after a battery of tests, it appears it was nothing more than a bad mattress. But that soft bed means Harrison likely starts the season on the DL and that the Rangers will need yet another starter to fill out the rotation.

Harrison's tightness is also a reminder that after three surgeries last year, there are no guarantees for the left-handed pitcher.

* LHP Derek Holland continues to rehab and progress, but as of now, the timeline is still about midseason. Holland could be a nice boost at that point for the rotation, but that's assuming he's healthy and ready. That won't be known for a few months.

* RHP Neftali Feliz, who was the favorite to close coming into camp, hasn't wrapped his hands firmly around the job yet. The velocity that reports showed he had in winter ball haven't shown up on any radar guns in Arizona. Feliz doesn't seem concerned and says he's building up arm strength and focused on secondary pitches, but he doesn't look like the guy that the Rangers were so excited about when spring started.

* RHP Joakim Soria is healthy and so far, looks solid this spring. He has closing experience should Feliz not get up to speed. I still think it's Feliz's job to lose. He just hasn't won the job yet (if that makes any sense).

* Of the internal candidates, I think Nick Tepesch has jumped out at me as a guy who seems to be going about his business and improving. He threw about six changeups in his last outing, an efficient three-inning appearance, and that pitch is one he needs going forward. He has a lot of work to do, but he's seeing results, which has to help his confidence.

* Tommy Hanson hasn't stood out to me. There's plenty of time left, but I'm not convinced at this point that he's better than some of the other guys vying for a starting job. But like I said, it's early and he's got a good attitude. Stay tuned.

* I'm curious to see what Joe Saunders has in camp. His numbers were ugly last year, but several scouts told me they feel like he's a smart risk this late in spring and worth a look. So we'll see.

* Colby Lewis' hip appears to be working just fine, but the added flexibility means a longer stride for Lewis. And that means he needs time to adjust to it. How much time? That's unclear. But Lewis isn't on the same schedule as the other pitchers as the club wants to be sure that he makes steady progress. So far, Lewis' velocity is where it needs to be and he's healthy. But he has to figure out his new mechanics to become more consistent.

* And no, for those asking, I'm not worried at all about Yu Darvish. Spring training homers for a guy who knows how to get himself ready for the season don't matter. I liked his approach to Mike Trout, too. Just pitch fastballs and not show him anything. Trout is the best player in the league and Darvish will see him plenty in 2014. Why give the hitter any kind of advantage?