Injuries stifling Rangers' bullpen
Others need to step up with Wilson, Benoit out of action
TUCSON -- The Rangers bullpen is passing the starting rotation as their biggest concern in Spring Training.Left-hander C.J. Wilson and right-hander Joaquin Benoit are at the top of the list. Wilson, who is expected to be the Rangers' closer, has been shut down with a case of biceps tendinitis. The condition is not considered serious, but the Rangers aren't sure when he'll be able to pitch again. He has been limited to playing catch on flat ground. "He just came up with some tightness and we didn't want to push it," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He's an intelligent guy, but we don't want him going out there and pushing it when he's not comfortable. We want him to feel comfortable." Benoit has yet to appear in a Cactus League game while dealing with soreness in his right shoulder. He has thrown three times in the bullpen since the problem came up and has another session scheduled for Friday. Pitching coach Mark Connor said they'll know more after that session. "We're trying to get him through this but prudently, not crazily," Connor said. "He has had three good bullpen sessions with increasing intensity. Hopefully after Friday we'll see if we can get him in a game." Benoit has had shoulder problems in Spring Training in the past. He started the season on the disabled list in 2006 and wasn't activated until May 1. But last season he went through Spring Training without a problem and ended up having his best season. Benoit finished 7-4 with a 2.85 ERA and six saves, and was selected the Rangers Pitcher of the Year. The Rangers bullpen already took one hit this spring when left-hander John Rheinecker had to undergo shoulder surgery, putting him out until the All-Star break. The saving grace for their relievers right now is both left-hander Eddie Guardado and right-hander Kazuo Fukumori are enjoying strong springs after some serious health issues in the past 12-18 months. Fukumori is coming off elbow surgery and Guardado only started pitching in August of last season after missing a full year because of Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
But Fukumori has pitched four scoreless innings over three appearances while Guardado has pitched two scoreless in two appearances."They have both done well," Connor said. The reliever who has been most impressive this spring has been right-hander Franklyn German, who is in camp as a non-roster player after spending all of last season with Triple A Oklahoma. German, who was 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA in 49 games at Oklahoma, has opened up some eyes with a fastball that's hitting 97-99 mph. He has struck out five in three innings without walking a batter. The control is most important. German has pitched in 138 Major League games over the past seven seasons and has walked 6.96 batters per nine innings, the second highest by a pitcher with at least 135 innings in this decade. That's why he's gone from front-line prospect to Triple-A depth. But the Rangers like what they've seen this spring. "He looks like a different guy than last year," Connor said. Wilson, Benoit, Fukumori and Guardado are all guaranteed spots in the Rangers bullpen, while German is one of about a dozen guys who are competing for the final three spots. But the Rangers may find they need all that depth if Benoit and Wilson have any more setbacks. The starting rotation was a concern early in Spring Training, but that is supposed to clear up. Brandon McCarthy, who has been sidelined with soreness in his right elbow/forearm, is expected to make his first appearance in a Cactus League on Friday. He'll follow starter Jason Jennings to the mound and is scheduled to pitch two innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. "He seems to be through all the aches and pains," Connor said. "He's had three bullpen sessions and has gotten better as we've gone along." Kevin Millwood, sidelined with a sore right hamstring, made it through Wednesday's simulated game without problem and could make his first start of the Cactus League on Monday against the Padres. He'll throw once or twice in the bullpen and also test the hamstring in some fielding drills before the Rangers make a final decision. He is still scheduled to pitch the season opener on March 31 against the Seattle Mariners.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.