Wilson gets official closer nod
German, Wright also earn spots in Rangers' bullpen
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers manager Ron Washington finally admitted the obvious, something that he had been reluctant to do in the past."C.J. Wilson is going to be our closer," Washington said before the Rangers' game against the Mariners on Tuesday night. Washington made the statement while at the same time announcing that right-handers Franklyn German and Jamey Wright had earned spots in the bullpen. Pitchers Frank Francisco and Eric Hurley were sent to Minor League camp. Wilson was the Rangers' de facto closer for the final two months of last season and was 12-for-14 in save opportunities. Yet Washington refused to anoint him closer and insisted for most of the spring that the job was open. That ended on Tuesday. "It's down to the point where he's shown me enough and that he's healthy," Washington said. "I just didn't want anybody taking anything for granted. He's thrown the ball well. He's the obvious choice." Wilson, who was held back for the first half of Spring Training with biceps tendinitis, is back pitching in Cactus League games and has pitched three scoreless innings. His main competition for the closer role was Eddie Guardado, but he was set back by a strained knee and a viral infection and never mounted a serious challenge for the job. Washington said there may be times when Guardado, Kazuo Fukumori or Joaquin Benoit may be needed to close, but the job right now goes to Wilson. "It's kind of cool actually," Wilson said. "It's what I've been working for. It's not surprising, but I'm glad we're all on the same page. It's out in the open and we can all move on and try to win." Hurley was sent down after posting a 6.19 ERA in five games, including two starts, but remains the Rangers' top Minor League pitching prospect and may be first in line in case of injury or other need at the big league level. "He proved he can pitch in the big leagues for a long time," Washington said. "It wasn't the stuff that impressed me but his moxie. If the guy does do badly, he comes right back and does something good. That's the sign of a good pitcher." Wright, who pitched a scoreless inning in a Minor League game on Tuesday, was a clear leader in the bullpen race from the beginning and nailed down a job as a middle reliever with a 2.53 ERA this spring.
"He goes out there and gets ground ball after ground ball after ground ball," Washington said. "He's certainly a piece we need. He gives us length and can start at the drop of a hat."German came to camp as a non-roster player and won a spot as a pitcher who could come into a middle of a game and get a big strikeout. He is one of the hardest throwers on the team, and he has a terrific split-finger fastball. He has had serious trouble throwing strikes in the past but has 10 strikeouts vs. four walks in nine innings this spring. The Rangers saw this coming at the end of last season, after German posted a 1.54 ERA over his final 19 outings at Triple-A Oklahoma. He struck out 32 and walked 12 in 23 1/3 innings in that stretch after a long summer working with pitching coach Andy Hawkins. "I saw a guy with a certain presence on the mound," Washington said. "The last couple of months last year in Triple-A Oklahoma, he found the strike zone, and it's continued in Spring Training. He has the secondary pitches to go with his fastball. He earned his way onto the club with his performance." German's split-finger fastball was a huge difference-maker against Francisco, who was in the Rangers' bullpen all of last season but couldn't come up with an effective second pitch this spring. The Rangers will open the season with an eight-man bullpen and still have two spots open. The candidates include right-handers Josh Rupe, Kameron Loe, Wes Littleton and Robinson Tejeda.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.