Late auditions.

Dustin Nippert's last two starts: 12 innings, one run, 11 hits, four walks, 11 strikeouts. He should get three more starts.

Like Nelson Cruz (.316/.409/.614), Nippert is out of options and making a strong case to be in the plans for 2009. Neither would clear waivers again, and even if they did, they wouldn't have to accept an outright assignment. But if Cruz and Nippert keep this up, there's no question that they'll still be on the 40-man roster when the team shows up in Surprise in February, barring a trade.

The bullpen last night: 12 up, 12 down. No hits, no walks, three strikeouts, 33 strikes (72 percent) out of 46 pitches (10.5 per inning) for Jamey Wright, Bill White, and Frankie Francisco (who celebrated his 29th birthday in what probably feels to him like a haunted house). Solid.

With 15 games to go, the Rangers are three games short of a .500 record, and 4.5 games ahead of Oakland in their effort to hang onto second place in the division.

What do Wright, Vicente Padilla, Josh Rupe, Frank Catalanotto, Ramon Vazquez, Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, and Milton Bradley have in common?

They're the only eight players out of the Rangers' 29 active big leaguers who didn't play for Oklahoma or Frisco this year. One local journalist points out that the rest could be in line for championship rings in the next few days, as the RedHawks and RoughRiders are each knotted at 1-1 in their best-of-five league title series, each coming home for tonight's Game Three and the balance of their series.

In fact, Davis, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Harrison, Warner Madrigal, Luis Mendoza, Taylor Teagarden, and Hank Blalock suited up for both Oklahoma and Frisco this season.

But Benoit and Blalock and several others may have to campaign hard to land the bling, as director of minor league operations John Lombardo notes that service time with the club and "significant" contributions will be key factors in the determination of who gets rewarded -- though the organization will err on the side of the player.

RedHawks righthander Tommy Hunter will face Sacramento in Oklahoma City tonight, while RoughRiders righthander Michael Schlact is set to face Northwest Arkansas tonight in Frisco.

Should Frisco's series go the distance, lefthander Derek Holland would apparently get the decisive Game Five start on Sunday. However, if Game Four gets washed out on Saturday, as expected, the Riders could theoretically throw Holland in the rescheduled Game Four and come back with righthander Neftali Feliz in a Game Five.

According to at least one local report, it's possible that Hunter, Wes Littleton, Max Ramirez, and Travis Metcalf could join the big league roster once Oklahoma's playoff run ends.

Hunter, in his first full pro season, is already up to 180.2 innings pitched, counting his playoff work. The regular season leader in the minor leagues, Tulsa lefthander Keith Weiser, threw 179.2 innings.

After logging 117.1 innings as a University of Alabama freshman, Hunter threw 124.2 innings last year (107 for the Crimson Tide and 17.2 with Spokane after signing). He's a horse.

This was buried in a blog this morning by a local reporter, but is worth noting: the Rangers will return bullpen coach Jim Colborn to his Pacific Rim scouting position on a full-time basis after the season. Texas will have a new bullpen coach in 2009.

Teagarden in three weeks with Frisco: .169/.279/.305, four extra-base hits and six RBI in 59 at-bats.

Teagarden in two weeks with Texas: .385/.429/.962, seven extra-base hits and 11 RBI in 26 at-bats.

From Wednesday's report, on the subject of Teagarden's hot streak: "[E]ven when that .350/.350/.850 line comes back to earth, Teagarden will probably start to add some walks to the ledger, as he always does. He's going to reach base."

Last night: two walks and a double in four trips.

This stunned me: When Brandon Boggs logged his seventh assist on Saturday, it was the club's 29th outfield assist of the year -- but Texas had 35 last year. That has to be a function of far fewer baserunners trying to take an extra base off Rangers outfielders this season. Big difference between the strength and accuracy of the arms Texas has in the outfield this year, compared to 2007.

Madrigal is getting the chance this month to audition for the Rangers' eighth-inning role. In his last five outings, the 24-year-old has thrown 4.1 scoreless innings, scattering two hits and no walks while fanning one.

Ian Kinsler's sports hernia repair procedure was conducted yesterday and went well. Doug Mathis had surgery on Wednesday to remove an inflamed bursa sac from his throwing shoulder. Both are expected to resume baseball activities in six to eight weeks.

Bill James predicted in the winter, while Hamilton was still with Cincinnati, that he would hit .305/.382/.598 with 31 home runs and 71 RBI in 410 at-bats in 2008. (Regarding that RBI projection, remember that Hamilton primarily led off for the Reds last year.) Hamilton is now hitting .306/.374/.546 with 31 home runs and 124 RBI in 562 at-bats.

Bradley needs 32 plate appearances over the Rangers' final 15 games to qualify for the American League batting title. He's currently hitting .32718, trailing only Dustin Pedroia's .32831. Bradley has played twice in the last six games, but didn't finish either game. His latest maladies have been a lower back strain and a sore left wrist, but he's expected to play tonight.

Only 11 rookies with at least 250 plate appearances have had a higher slugging percentage this decade than Davis's .538. Hard to imagine someone topping the .634 slug that Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun compiled in 2007.

Eighteen-year-old Korean righthander Tae-Kyung Ahn threw a bullpen session for Colborn and pitching Andy Hawkins in Seattle on Tuesday. Ahn, whom Texas signed for a reported six figures in August, will report to Instructs in Surprise this month. So will I. Can't wait.

Baseball America named outfielder Mike Bianucci the number 19 prospect in this summer's Cape Cod League, where the Auburn product was tied for second in the league with five home runs and 19 RBI at the time that he left the Cotuit Kettleers to sign with the Rangers for $175,000. The eighth-rounder went on to hit .316/.386/.535 for Spokane before breaking his hand shortly before the Northwest League champions got their playoff run underway.

Reuters ran a story on Monday titled "Lehman meeting with buyers for Neuberger: Report." The phone never rang.

I took 102.1 FM ("The Edge") off of my radio presets in the car Wednesday because the afternoon drive DJ talked over the final 15 or 20 seconds of "Where the Streets Have No Name," one of the great song endings ever recorded. It was a "Heidi" moment, smaller scale. Irredeemable.

Dominican Summer League righthander Cristian Zapata was among 12 minor leaguers suspended 50 games by the league a week ago after testing positive for steroids. The 19-year-old was 0-2, 7.44 in two starts and 18 relief appearances for the DSL squad this season, with 45 walks in 52 innings.

Former Rangers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hit his 30th and 31st home runs of the year last night. His teammate and brother, former Rangers farmhand Edgar Gonzalez, hit his sixth homer. The last time brothers homered as teammates in the same big league game was September 18, 2000, when Vladimir and Wilton Guerrero did so for Montreal. Bengie and Jose Molina homered in the same game as opponents on July 31, 2005.

It was the first time the Gonzalez brothers had ever homered in the same pro game. Adrian (age 26) and Edgar (age 30), both of whom entered pro ball in 2000, played on different teams in the New York-Penn League in 2000 and in the Pacific Coast League in 2005, but never against each other. They'd never played in the same game until the Padres purchased Edgar's contract in May, and last night was obviously a big one for the brothers.

Milwaukee signed Mike Lamb, though he won't be eligible for the playoffs if he helps the Brewers get there. The club also designated Laynce Nix for assignment -- to clear space for a successful waiver claim of reliever Todd Coffey -- but if Nix clears waivers, he'll have the right to decline an outright assignment since he was outrighted before (by the Brewers in December).

The Grand Prairie AirHogs of the independent American Association traded infielder David Espinosa (who would have been a Ranger if Kenny Rogers hadn't vetoed a trade to the Reds in July 2002) to the Camden Riversharks of the independent Atlantic League for a player to be named.

My final weekly MLB.com Top 20 Rangers Prospects column of the season is up at http://tinyurl.com/6ohssq. I'll update the rankings monthly between now and April.

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title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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