Ogando in rotation, while Ross aims to join him
Left-hander to compete with several hurlers for club's fifth-starter role
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Pitcher Robbie Ross showed up to the Rangers' complex on Sunday sporting a full beard.
"It started when we were doing beards in the bullpen last year," Ross said. "I just kind of left it there, although I've thinned it out here and there."
The new look could go with a new job. When the Rangers officially open camp later this week, Ross will be one of at least a half-dozen candidates for the fifth-starter spot. He was a starter in the Minor Leagues before making the team as its left-handed setup reliever as a rookie last spring.
"I guess so," Ross said. "We'll see what happens. I'll just try to do the best I can and see what happens. I just need to be consistent ... pound the strike zone. They're looking for someone to get outs and get the game going. I'll do the best I can."
Ross, who was 6-0 with a 2.22 ERA in 58 appearances last season, is trying to make the same transition that Alexi Ogando did in 2011. Ogando was a setup reliever for Texas in 2010, then went into the rotation and was 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA the following season while making the All-Star team.
Ogando went back to the bullpen in 2012, but the Rangers have decided to put him in the rotation again. Ogando, who was also at the complex on Sunday, was thrilled with the news when club officials told him this offseason. He is planning on this being the end of the annual switch.
"This is what I want," Ogando said. "For me, starting is easier. You have four days off and every fifth day you pitch. I like the routine of the starter."
There is one difference between Ogando and Ross. The Rangers have locked Ogando into the rotation along with Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Ross has to win a job while competing against veterans Randy Wells and Kyle McClellan and rookies Martin Perez, Justin Grimm, Nick Tepesch and Cody Buckel.
Perez finished last season as Texas' fifth starter, but there is no clear-cut favorite in this competition. Wells and McClellan have the most experience as Major League starters, but are in camp as non-roster invites. Ross admitted that he might be the underdog in the competition, especially if the Rangers need him more in the bullpen.
"I might be a long shot just because I haven't started like Martin or Grimm or the other guys," Ross said. "But I didn't think I would make the team last year as a reliever. I thought I would be here for two-three weeks in camp and then be sent back to Triple-A. I'm just going to come in with the same edge as I did last year, enjoy it and soak it all up."
Ross needs a changeup to complete his repertoire as a starter. He has one, but didn't use it at all last season. He threw his fastball 83.6 percent of the time and almost everything else was a slider. According to STATS Inc., Ross threw just three changeups out of 1,057 pitches last season.
A changeup would also help him against right-handed hitters, although they hit just .237 off him last year. Left-handed hitters batted .225.
"The thing is, I still used it, but I never used it in the game," Ross said. "I used it when I would throw with Joe Nathan in the bullpen. I didn't use it in the games, but so far in the bullpens that I have thrown lately, I think I have been getting a feel for it again."
Ogando is also trying to rediscover his changeup. He used it on occasion as a starter in 2011, but rarely as a reliever this past season. He threw just 11 changeups out of his 1,040 pitches. He threw his fastball 63.8 percent of the time, and the rest were sliders.
Ogando can dominate any hitter, but left-handers have hit .249 with a .395 slugging percentage against him in his three-year career, while right-handed hitters are batting .195 with a .293 slugging percentage. The changeup can help him against both.
"I got away from the changeup, but I worked on it a lot," Ogando said.
He will get more work this spring. Ogando was asked to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, but declined the invitation.
"It was hard because I wanted to pitch," Ogando said. "But I've got an opportunity to be a starter here. I want to work at that."
Rangers pitchers and catchers don't officially report until Tuesday with the first workout scheduled for Wednesday. But Ross and Ogando are among at least a dozen pitchers already in camp. Ross did some light throwing on Sunday and has had "six-seven" sessions off a mound before coming to Arizona. Ogando has been throwing in the Dominican and went off a mound for the first time on Wednesday.
Both have a chance to fill out the back end of the rotation and don't want to waste the opportunity.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.