Tejeda kick-starts arm developments
Gagne and Francisco take important steps, as does Cruz
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Robinson Tejeda had a pretty good fastball Tuesday afternoon."How fast?" Tejeda wanted to know. He was told that the stadium radar gun had him at 97 mph at least a couple of times. "Aw," he said with mock disappointment. "I wanted it two higher." Maybe, but a range of 94-97 mph seemed more than sufficient on an afternoon in which he threw four scoreless innings in a 4-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants. "He threw the ball really well," said Rangers manager Ron Washington, who jokingly said before the game he was going to whip Tejeda if he didn't pitch well. "I don't have to do that now," Washington smiled afterward. Tejeda's performance was just one of several significant subplots in a seemingly meaningless exhibition game at Surprise Stadium. For Tejeda, Eric Gagne, Frank Francisco and Nelson Cruz, the afternoon was far from insignificant. Gagne made his first appearance in an A game, Francisco pitched two scoreless innings at a time when his spot in the bullpen is in doubt and Cruz, starting to overcome his early spring setbacks, smashed two home runs. "Both home runs, they just kept on going," Washington said. "If he just swings the bat, things happen. He's a strong kid." Cruz started the spring with just two hits in his first 16 at-bats while having to deal with shin splints and the effects of getting hit by a pitch in the head. But he has two doubles and two home runs in his last eight at-bats. "I'm starting to feel comfortable and get my timing down," said Cruz, who came to camp trying to nail down the starting right-field job and is beginning to do just that. "He's one of the kids we're going to give an opportunity to," Washington said. "I've been trying my best to keep the pressure off him. I told him to just go up there, take your hacks and play the game. I'm happy for him. Now he can relax. He's going to get an opportunity, just like Tejeda." Tejeda also had a rough time early in the spring, bringing a 5.40 ERA into this start. There were no overt threats about the possibility of losing his job, but he knew this was an important start for him. That's why he had not the usual one but two bullpen throwing sessions between his starts.
"I feel much better about this," Tejeda said. "The last two games I didn't pitch like I was supposed to but this is Spring Training. If you keep working hard, everything will come together. I've pitched two years in the big leagues. I proved what I can do. I'm not saying anybody was scared but they wanted me to do my best and that's what I was trying to do."It wasn't a breeze. He allowed six hits and a walk. But center fielder Kenny Lofton saved one run by throwing out Bengie Molina trying to score from second base, Gerald Laird cut down one runner trying to steal second and a double play got Tejeda out of a jam in the fourth. Tejeda featured his best fastball of the spring but also mixed in a sharper slider and a more effective changeup. "I started Spring Training working on my fastball and changeup," Tejeda said. "Now I'm working on my slider. If you have a good fastball, your changeup can be your best pitch. I'm not saying I have a great slider but it can help keep hitters off balance." Gagne replaced Tejeda after four innings. In his first A game appearance since back and elbow surgeries, he gave up a leadoff home run to Kevin Frandsen, but then retired the next three hitters on two grounders and a strikeout. Gagne, who threw a simulated game on Sunday, wasn't scheduled to pitch on Tuesday but felt so good in the morning that he told Washington he was ready. "I was a little nervous in the bullpen," Gagne said. "But it was good to get the adrenaline going again. I felt good out there." Francisco, who had elbow surgery two years ago, looked good out there too, taking over in the sixth inning after Akinori Otsuka gave up a home run to Barry Bonds in his one inning of work. Francisco, who had a 4.50 ERA coming into the game, pitched two scoreless innings. He allowed a hit and a walk while striking out two. "He had his [split-finger fastball] and breaking ball in the strike zone," Washington said. "It made his fastball better." Francisco put a smile on the manager's face. Much did on the afternoon. Tuesday was hardly insignificant for Washington. "As you go along in Spring Training, things find a way to fall in place," Washington said. "We certainly made a statement with the guys we had on the mound today."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.