The Texas Rangers go to spring training with a new manager, a few new pitchers, some healed hurlers and a couple of big-money bats they hope can stay healthy this time.
After an AL-worst 95 losses last year, their most since 1985, the Rangers are ready for the fresh start that comes with spring training and a new season.
”We talk about establishing an identity or a cohesiveness. I think there is going to be a lot of that this spring,” general manager Jon Daniels said. ”Even a core group that just hasn’t been on the field together. I think establishing roles, staying healthy, and establishing what we want to be about, it’s going to be big this spring.”
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Jeff Banister takes over as manager after 29 seasons in Pittsburgh’s organization, from being drafted in 1986 to the past four years as bench coach for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
”I think you can make a pretty strong case the biggest addition we’ve made this winter was Jeff,” Daniels said.
Even when losses were piling up during an injury-plagued season, Daniels had no intention of changing managers until Ron Washington’s sudden resignation for personal reasons with three weeks left. Bench coach Tim Bogar went 14-8 as interim manager, but Banister won over Rangers officials during the interview process.
Slugger Prince Fielder and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo were the big additions before last season.
Fielder had missed only one game the previous five seasons but played only 42 games in his Rangers debut before neck surgery in May. Choo dealt with nagging injuries much of the year and hit .242 before operations late on his left elbow and left ankle.
Ace Yu Darvish, who didn’t pitch after Aug. 9 because of elbow inflammation, has already been throwing off the mound in Arizona. The right-hander was 10-7 with a 3.06 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 22 starts in his third season since leaving Japan for Texas.
Lefty Derek Holland missed five months due to left knee surgery after being tripped by his dog on the stairs of his home last winter. He got back at the end of the season, going 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA in 37 innings over six appearances.
Yovani Gallardo, acquired in a trade from Milwaukee, is expected to be the No. 3 starter, ahead of Colby Lewis. Newcomers Ross Detwiler and Anthony Ranaudo are expected front-runners for the fifth spot.
With the Rangers set for the first workout for pitchers and catchers Saturday in Surprise, Arizona, five days before the first full-squad workout, here are a few things to watch:
DEVELOPING IDENTITY: Banister believes it is ”crucial” for the team to develop its identity during spring training. ”You’re not going to turn a light on Game 1,” Banister said. ”There is a progression and a process by which players need to be able to feel comfortable, get themselves ready. But they should be developing their identity individually and collectively throughout spring training.”
LEFT-RIGHT: With Alex Rios gone, Choo is moving from left field to right field. Ryan Rua hit .295 in 28 games in his major league debut last season, and finished as the starter in left. Non-roster invitees Ryan Ludwick and Nate Schierholtz could push for that job, along with returners Jake Smolinski and Michael Choice.
CALLING ELVIS: After a new contract, Elvis Andrus had some early-season struggles and never seemed to get on track, hitting a career-low .263. At only 26, he is the team’s longest-tenured position player. Andrus set some physical and conditioning goals for the offseason and Daniels said the shortstop was ”very impressive” in reaching those and having a big part in the offseason workouts by large groups of players.
BACK OF BULLPEN: World Series closer Neftali Feliz is back in that role after an ill-fated attempt at being a starter and Tommy John surgery. The right-hander made 30 appearances the final three months last season, with 13 saves and a 1.99 ERA. Tanner Scheppers, the opening day starter a year ago, is back in a relief role and Kyuji Fujikawa was a standout reliever in Japan before having last two seasons with the Chicago Cubs limited because of Tommy John surgery.