Commentary

Rangers hoping in Ogando as starter

The righty is the Rangers' latest attempt at converting a reliever into a starter

Updated: June 5, 2013, 11:25 PM ET
By Todd Wills | ESPNDallas.com

BOSTON -- Alexi Ogando resumes his season in the Texas Rangers' starting rotation on Wednesday night at Fenway Park, when he'll continue to answer the question of whether he can successfully make the shift from reliever to starter.

The numbers say it is working. Ogando takes a 4-2 record and 3.08 ERA in nine starts into his outing against the Boston Red Sox. He went 13-8 in 29 starts in 2011, helping the Rangers reach the World Series.

[+] EnlargeOgando
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesThe Rangers are expecting Alexi Ogando to pick up where he left off before his injury, when he spun a 4-2 record and 3.08 ERA.

He's also been sidelined for the past three weeks with right biceps tendinitis as he makes the transition from the bullpen back to the rotation. Ogando spent the entire 2012 season as a reliever, throwing 66 innings. Already at 49⅔ innings this season, he'll pass that in a few starts.

Ogando dealt with fatigue issues at the end of the 2011 season and was back in the bullpen in the playoffs -- he had a 10.13 ERA in the World Series. He missed a month last season with a groin injury. He's been hurt again this season, which begs the question of whether or not the back-and-forth between starting and relieving has made Ogando susceptible to arm injuries.

There's also the 2012 season of Neftali Feliz, who shifted from reliever to starter and had Tommy John surgery last August. Feliz still hasn't thrown from the mound and remains in extended spring training in Surprise, Ariz.

Relievers to starters.

The Cincinnati Reds toyed with the idea of making closer Aroldis Chapman a starter this season but relented and put one of baseball's hardest throwers back in the bullpen.

New York Yankees fans insist Joba Chamberlain, once a dominant setup man to Mariano Rivera, was ruined when he was tried as a starter in 2008 and '09. Chamberlain is now the subject of constant trade rumors.

The starter-to-reliever move has worked for the Rangers before -- with C.J. Wilson.

Wilson was turned into a starter before the 2010 season -- the Rangers' first World Series season -- after four seasons pitching out of the bullpen, which included a 24-save season as a closer in 2008.

Wilson has won 48 games as a starter since and was a key member of two World Series starting rotations for the Rangers. He has a 3.42 ERA as a starter since the beginning of the 2010 season.

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Say what you want about Wilson's postseason record. He has been a big success story as a reliever-turned-starter. Wilson's secret was getting himself in tip-top shape.

"C.J. figured out how to outwork the situation," said Rangers bullpen coach Andy Hawkins, who pitched 10 seasons in the major leagues.

Wilson also started in the minor leagues and prepared like few pitchers at that level. He kept notes on every batter he faced when he pitched for Double-A Frisco. He wouldn't show them to his teammates, reporters, anyone.

Feliz started for four seasons in the minor leagues, though he never pitched more than 77⅓ innings in a season. The Rangers converted him to a starter in 2012, and he made it for seven starts. He was 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA, but his season was cut short by his elbow injury.

The knee-jerk reaction is to blame Feliz's injury on his being switched to a starter. When a pitcher as talented as Feliz goes down, the search for answers begins.

"Everybody is looking for a reason," Hawkins said. "You just can't tell."

And that's true. Maybe Feliz didn't build up his legs and strength during the offseason before the 2012 season, and the result was an elbow injury as he tired out as a starter.

Maybe it was just Feliz's time to get hurt.

Ogando's story is much different. Manager Ron Washington said when Ogando was put on the disabled list on May 16 that the club was being cautious with its No. 3 starter. Ogando needed only one rehab start -- he went six scoreless innings for Double-A Frisco -- to get ready for Wednesday's start.

The Rangers are confident Ogando will build on what he has started this season and see his recent injury as nothing more than a speed bump.

"I expect him to pick up where he left off, probably with a bigger smile on his face," Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He was feeling pretty good about himself, but he had to battle through his last couple starts because of this. He still got through it. I'd just like for him to show the sharpness he showed in his bullpens and his rehab start."

Ogando's next step is to go deeper into games. He is averaging around 90 pitches per game and has made it past the sixth inning only twice in eight starts.

Washington said Tuesday that experience will help Ogando pitch deeper into games.

A lack of fastball command, especially earlier in the season, is the reason he's thrown more than 100 pitches only two times this season -- both coming in his two starts before he was injured in a start against the Oakland Athletics on May 15, in which he had five no-hit innings but was out of the game after six.

"He is capable of going longer and deeper," Washington said. "It['s] just the circumstances of the ballgame that cause that. They'll be a time before it's all over with that you'll see him go further than that."

The Rangers push on, believing the starting rotation is the right place for Ogando.