Starter-starved Rangers give ex-LCA star Ross another look

Fort Worth Star-TelegramMarch 2, 2014 

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Starting is something Robbie Ross has always wanted to do, and the Texas Rangers are giving him another shot to prove himself in spring training.

This time, though, it's under more serious consideration. The Rangers are desperate for starters with Derek Holland out for at least the first half and an injury-riddled field of candidates.

Ross, who played at Lexington Christian Academy, had success in a starting role throughout his minor-league career and has proven capable enough to get big-league hitters out the past two seasons in a relief role. He takes his first steps to showing he is ready for a rotation return Sunday against the White Sox.

"It does feel different than last year just because Derek is injured," said Ross, the 24-year-old left-hander. "But it's going to be my first time getting out there, and I don't want to put too much pressure on myself.

"When you put pressure on yourself, that's the hardest thing. You just want to enjoy it and say, 'Wow. This is exciting. This is pretty cool to get an opportunity like this.'"

Ross stretched out and started early on last spring, but that proposition never gained steam. In the end, most believed Ross would wind up in the bullpen again as a shutdown lefty.

Things have changed, and that role now belongs to Neal Cotts. The veteran resurrected his career and became Ron Washington's preferred left-handed option down the stretch last season.

But Washington refuted the notion that Ross has become more expendable from the bullpen because of Cotts.

"We need starting pitching, and Robbie has started before in the minor leagues and done well," Washington said.

"We're trying to use as much of our inventory as we possibly can. If we can get Robbie stretched out and he can get into some type of form where he shows he can get this done, then maybe he'll win a job."

The concern surrounding Ross is that he's faded in the second half since going to the big leagues. Washington believes Ross struggled his rookie season because the major-league grind caught up with him. The second season, in Washington's mind, had to do with Ross' inability to get left-handers out.

Ross had always fared well in the lefty-lefty matchup but found himself in a rut against them last July and August. Too many of his pitches worked themsevles back over the middle of the plate, and veterans such as Michael Bourn and Josh Hamilton took advantage.

But that's something Ross knows he must improve upon this year. He also has to develop a reliable third pitch, preferably a slow-down pitch to keep hitters more off-balance.

Ross has relied primarily on his cut fastball and slider, two hard pitches that move. That is OK to get through an inning or two, but a change-of-speed pitch is needed to go deeper in games.

Ross feels better and better with his changeup and is mixing in an occasional curveball. But the changeup is what will be used the most as his third pitch.

He didn't throw it too often last season because he simply wanted to get out of innings. Now, Ross is making an effort to implement it and is more than willing to go through the bumps necessary.

That's why he didn't mind enduring a 25-pitch inning in his intrasquad appearance earlier this week. Ross kept mixing it in even though it was getting hit.

It's a sign that Ross is all-in in his quest to become a starter. He's determined enough to start that he'd be willing to take on the long man role in the bullpen so he can stay stretched out and serve as an emergency starter.

"I'd love to be a starter," Ross said. "That's what I've always wanted to do."

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