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Four questions Rangers must answer when deciding on opening-day roster

Isiah Kiner-Falefa's every-day status and the first base position battle must be figured out before the 2020 season begins.

Within the next 10 days, Rangers manager Chris Woodward will pare down a 58-man summer camp roster to a 30-man opening day roster. In many ways, what Woodward and the 29 other managers are tasked with is unique — they’ll have to look at their rosters in different ways than the 25-man has presented in the past.

But at the end of the day it’s still making tough decisions based on what’s best for the team.

Here’s a look at some of those decisions that Woodward will have to make as the 60-game season rapidly approaches.

How many pitchers to carry? With a 30-man roster, it makes sense that there will be additional pitching depth. But Woodward is deciding whether to carry 15 or 16 pitchers. The five starters are set, and he said six to seven relievers are basically locked into jobs.

“We obviously have our names, as it stands right now, who are kind of in the lead, but a lot can happen in this week,” Woodward said. “We’ll see, health-wise and just performance, we’ll see.”

Some of the guys competing for spots likely include former World Series closer Cody Allen, fireballing prospect Demarcus Evans, former Giants and Blue Jays closer Derek Law and veteran Luis Garcia, among others.

The health of lefties Brett Martin and Joely Rodriguez will also play a factor in who makes the roster.

Who plays first base? Ronald Guzman was unlucky to miss most of the first week of summer camp for an undisclosed reason. He came into spring training as the incumbent, but spent most of the camp locked in a battle for the first base job with Greg Bird.

Bird, 27, is a former top prospect who has had many injuries over his career, all with the Yankees. Guzman, though, hit just .219 last season over 87 games.

Woodward didn’t offer too many insights as to which way the competition is leaning, especially since Guzman has had limited opportunities against live pitching.

“I just need to know that, especially in a 60-game season, that I can trust, when I put guys in there, that they’re going to be prepared and give a competitive effort and be productive,” Woodward said. “That’s all we’re looking for.

“That’s what I’m looking for with Guzy, and I just need to see him from a mental stability standpoint. Just trust what he’s doing and believe in what he’s doing.”

Will there be a lefty specialist? Martin (COVID-19) and Rodriguez (lat) are out, and it’s possible neither will be ready to start the season.

That leaves Taylor Hearn, a lefty who throws up to 96 mph, as a viable option. He’s viewed as someone that can throw multiple innings.

“A big power arm like Taylor, there’s a couple of adjustments he’s made to get the lefties out,” Woodward said. “He took a little bit off of his breaking ball to make it a bigger break, which I think will be good for him. If you’re throwing upper-90s from the left side, a big power arm like that and you have a sweeping breaking ball, you can get a lot of swing-and-misses on that.”

Woodward said he views Hearn as among the best options to get left-handed hitters out in critical situations.

Can Isiah-Kiner Falefa be an everyday player? Woodward has talked about needing to find a way to get Nick Solak into the lineup on a daily basis. The same could be said for Kiner-Falefa, who has continued to impress from spring training and again in summer camp.

“Every day that’s going by he’s making it more and more [realistic],” Woodward said. “You see the changes in his body, the changes in his swing, and it’s hard for me to not have him in the lineup. All I can ask is for every player to approach their role that way.”

Last season, Kiner-Falefa was used as a catcher. This season, he will not be asked to fill that role and will stick mainly to the left side of the infield. The next 10 days could be big as Kiner-Falefa competes to show he deserves consideration as a regular presence in the lineup.

Find more Rangers stories from The Dallas Morning News here.

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Sam Blum, Staff Writer. Sam covers SMU athletics and the Texas Rangers for The Dallas Morning News, and previously covered Auburn University athletics for AL.com. He's also covered University of Virginia athletics for The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. He graduated from Syracuse University.

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