Ross ready to embrace role in Rangers' rotation
Former reliever discusses stretching out in winter ball as he prepares for transition
PLANO, Texas -- Robbie Ross was back in the comforts of Texas on Sunday afternoon, signing autographs at a Rangers Winter Caravan event at a local sporting goods store. He's glad to be home after offseason journeys to Ethiopia and the Dominican Republic.
It was 26 days spent in the latter -- where he was restricted to playing baseball and to a resort -- that could make a big impact on the Rangers' 2014 season.
Ross, who has been a key piece of the bullpen the last two seasons, began the process of stretching out his left arm, with the Rangers wanting him to vie for a spot in the five-man rotation this spring.
Ross, 24, said Sunday he's ready to go.
"I've always wanted to be a starter," said Ross, who went 0-1 with 4.05 ERA for Toros del Este. "I came up as a starter in the Minor Leagues, and obviously it's been great being in the big leagues as a reliever. I'm completely fine with that.
"But obviously my biggest goal is to be a starter one day, and I'd like to get that opportunity this year. Hopefully I can go in there and try to seize it."
The need for Ross to transition into a starter's role intensified with a knee injury to Derek Holland that likely will keep the lefty out until the All-Star break.
Ross knows he can make a big difference as the Rangers try to take back the American League West from Oakland.
"It's a huge motivation," Ross said. "You want to do the best you can to get a spot."
The Rangers don't want to go through another season to wait for injured pitchers to come back from the disabled list like they did last year with Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis, who were both initially targeted to come back during the second half of the season and then didn't.
So that led to the organizational decision of having Ross, already with a few years in the big leagues, make four starts in winter ball. He went five innings in each of his last two starts, reaching around 85 pitches.
"They were trying to tell me, 'Hey, we need you to be ready to go,'" Ross said. "'We see you as one of the guys possibly,' and I just was kind of like, 'Yeah, I'll go do that, if that's what it takes.' Definitely that's what I've wanted to do and what I've always wanted to be is a starter."
Ross worked with the starters last year in Spring Training and then pitched 65 games for the Rangers in relief, posting a 3.03 ERA. He was among the league leaders for relievers with a 0.37 ERA at the end of May, but then struggled around the All-Star break.
Ross did finish the season strong, not allowing an earned run in his last six appearances as the Rangers frantically tried to get back into the playoffs.
That gave the hurler momentum heading to winter ball.
"I had that little patch where I went bad, but it was a growing experience," Ross said. "Honestly, I'm happy it happened now so I know how to handle that feeling. It started out as a good season, and luckily it was good at the end so I could finish strong and finish how I wanted to. I had to keep that same momentum."
With Holland's injury and uncertainty at this point as far as the fifth starter goes, Ross' opportunity is much better this spring. Harrison offered advice Sunday for the fellow left-hander.
"Go in there and have goals," Harrison said. "Make sure you are mentally prepared to be a starter and mentally ready to start too. Build with each game and have a purpose with each pitch. And be determined to beat out the next guy."
Ross focused on his secondary pitches in the Dominican, fine-tuning his slider, curveball and changeup. He worked on setting up hitters and remembering when and how to use all of his pitches in certain situations.
"I learned a lot," Ross said. "I needed to figure out some stuff, and going in there and facing some hitters that are well-respected helped, and getting that experience of getting stretched out again helped."
He enjoyed the beaches in the Dominican and the time away with his wife. Now comes the biggest opportunity of Ross' career.
"You like having your offseason, but you have to do that and go to the Dominican and work hard," Ross said. "It feels like, 'Wow, I'm getting stretched out to do something.' Obviously I wanted to do it, because I knew it possibly could help me out in the near future."
Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.