SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — The Texas Rangers may need to take another name into consideration when trying to determine their fifth starter: Colby Lewis.
While the veteran right-hander will miss the start of the season still recovering from elbow surgery, Lewis will have a rotation spot when he's back — and that could be sooner than expected. If that happens, whoever starts the season in the No. 5 spot could end up being a temporary fill-in.
Lewis is scheduled to throw off a full mound for the first time in seven months Friday. He was set to throw long toss Wednesday, then have a day off before the anticipated bullpen session.
"I feel great, my big thing is that I don't want to push it too quick," Lewis said Tuesday, a day after throwing off an elevated mound that was still lower than a regular one. "When you feel as good as I feel right now, I just don't want to take any steps backward. I'm just basically kind of letting days go by and wanting to increase strength."
When Lewis had surgery July 27 to repair a torn flexor tendon, he was expected to be out up to a year. Without any setbacks, the Rangers' best postseason pitcher could be back by the end of May, maybe sooner.
The Rangers originally went into the spring with no intention of factoring Lewis into the equation when determining the fifth starter behind Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando.
Their thought process could be changing based on how Lewis is progressing so far in camp.
"He's doing so well right now it's hard not to factor that in, and I think we're going to have to at least consider the possibility," general manager Daniels said. "The welcome possibility that he'll be back earlier than expected, and whether or not that impacts what we do remains to be seen. But it may."
For now, there are five primary candidates to be the fifth starter. They are non-roster invitees Randy Wells and Kyle McClellan, and a trio of pitchers who made their major league debuts last season: Martin Perez, Justin Grimm and Robbie Ross, who will have a role in the bullpen again if they're not starting.
Throwing off a half-mound Monday was a significant step for Lewis, who last pitched July 18 at Oakland. Manager Ron Washington was encouraged by what he saw.
"He's got his stroke, just don't have the strength in the arm yet. ... His stroke (from) behind is just like I'm sitting in Texas watching him on the mound," Washington said. "He walked off there happy and smiling, no residual (Tuesday), so that's a good thing."
Even though he is admittedly ahead of schedule, Lewis plans to remain cautious. He doesn't want to force things and have something go wrong.
"I don't want that feeling to go away, how good I feel," he said. "I just want to be cautious about it, and when I throw, not feel anything. I don't want any residual the next day."
Lewis was 6-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 16 starts last season before the torn tendon in his right elbow was diagnosed. He was also in the last year of his contract and facing the prospect of going into free agency while recovering from surgery.
But Texas unexpectedly gave him a $2 million, one-year contract in September, two months after surgery. He can earn up to $4 million more in incentives when he gets back on the mound.
Originally drafted by Texas in 1999 with a compensation pick between the first and second rounds, Lewis is 32-29 with a 3.93 ERA in 80 starts since rejoining the team in 2010 after two seasons in Japan. He is 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in eight postseason starts — 1-0 with a 2.29 ERA in three World Series games.
Lewis knows things could have been a lot different without the one-year deal.
"I could have been in a situation where I could have had to hurry up the process along and try to come in and to make a ballclub with another team and possibly hurt myself and hurt the rest of my career," he said. "So I feel very fortunate that the Rangers gave me an opportunity to take my time and get right, not only for them but for my career also."