Rupe riding sinker to success

After missing out on a Major League rotation job in spring training, Josh Rupe is back with Triple-A Oklahoma. Lone Star Dugout spoke to the right-hander after a recent game in Round Rock.

Josh Rupe is the kind of pitcher that the Texas Rangers need more of. He may not throw in the upper 90s and rack up huge strikeout numbers, but he has what it takes to succeed in the launching pad that is the Ballpark in Arlington: a sinking fastball.

Rupe's sinker, which he throws between 91-94 mph, allows him to get ground ball outs, which are necessary in Arlington. In addition to his sinker, he also features three other big league quality pitches in his plus slider, a big 12-6 curveball and a changeup.

The four pitch repertoire has allowed Rupe to have two successful stints with the Rangers in 2005 and 2006. He made his major league debut in September 2005, a night where he defeated Mariners phenom Felix Hernandez. He finished the 2006 season as one of the Rangers most consistent relievers. He threw 15 consecutive scoreless innings from August 11-September 2, and finished the season with a 0-1 record and a 3.41 ERA in 29 innings.

"My sinker is easily my best pitch," Rupe said. "Almost all the fastballs I throw are sinkers, except for two or three four-seamers a game. It accounts for about 70 percent of the total pitches I throw."

With all signs pointing towards Rupe opening the 2007 season in the major leagues, he struggled mightily in spring training. He walked six hitters in seven innings, and saw himself assigned to Oklahoma to begin the season. Although he is back in the minors, Rupe isn't going to let it get him down.

"Everything feels good health wise," he said. "I am just trying to go out there, get some people out and work my way back up to the big leagues."

Whether Rupe will pitch out of the bullpen or the starting rotation remains to be seen. Rupe pitched out of the bullpen exclusively for the first time in 2006. Inflammation in his pitching elbow forced him to start the season on the disabled list, and he was put in the bullpen when he returned so he could get back into pitching shape and reach Arlington quicker.

This season Rupe is back in the starting rotation for the Redhawks, a place where he can show off his four pitch arsenal, which isn't always seen when he is pitching in relief.

"When Josh is being used as a starter, he will use all four of his pitches," Oklahoma pitching coach Andy Hawkins said. "It is a little different when he is in the bullpen, because he sometimes has to come in and get a double play. When that is the case, he goes straight to his sinker."

Rupe has been surrounded by some of the best players in baseball since he was ten years old. That was the year that Rupe, who grew up in the tidal water region of Virginia, first met New York Mets All-Star third baseman David Wright and Tampa Bay Devil Rays second baseman B.J. Upton.

"We all played together since we were about ten years old," Rupe said. "I remember when Dave used to be short and pudgy. Since we started playing together, I think I probably only got Dave out four of five times in those ten years. BJ has always been a great athlete and a great hitter that was tough to get out."

Other players from the area that came out around the same time as Rupe, include Minnesota Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer and Washington Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman.

With Robinson Tejeda being the only starter who has had consistent success this season for the Rangers, Rupe could be called up by mid season to help the rotation. This would allow him to once again face the hitter he says is the toughest he has ever faced, Rangers killer Vladimir Guerrero. If the rotation stabilizes, then Rupe could also be used in middle relief. Regardless of where he is utilized, his sinker should allow him to do what few pitchers have been able to do: survive pitching in the Ballpark in Arlington.

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