So close to title, Texas Rangers looking forward

The Texas Rangers used to go to spring training trying to fill

out a starting rotation and hoping to get out of last place in the

AL West.

When the Rangers report to camp this week, they will have

Japan’s top pitcher and four returners who won at least 13 games

last year. There are at least seven potential starters, even after

losing their ace in free agency.

The Rangers will be taking the first step in their quest to get

to their third consecutive World Series, and insist there will be

no hangover after being so agonizingly close to winning it all last

season.

”We’re every bit of a championship team, we just didn’t get

that last out,” said Michael Young, the longest-tenured Ranger

going into his 12th season. ”We’ll definitely use it for

motivation, but at the same time, if anything, we just want to go

out there and prove how good a team we are all over again.”

Yu Darvish, the 25-year-old Japanese right-hander the Rangers

committed more than $107 million to sign this winter, arrived at

the spring training complex in Surprise, Ariz., on Tuesday, a day

before the reporting date for Texas pitchers and catchers and two

days before the team’s first official workout.

The first full-squad workout is Sunday. That will be the first

time the entire team is on the field together since those last two

World Series games in St. Louis last October, when they were twice

within one pitch of winning a clinching Game 6 before losing in 11

innings. They then led 2-0 only four batters into Game 7 before

losing 6-2.

As for what manager Ron Washington planned to tell his players

to start spring training, he said he’s had many thoughts and

written down several things. He said whatever he tells them will be

private, unlike that secretly recorded audio of his clubhouse

speech before Game 7 that was released on the Internet.

”You can’t get bogged down in the fact that we didn’t win it,”

team president Nolan Ryan said. ”You have to consider the year and

all the good things that happened, and the opportunity to go

back-to-back years and hope that not winning it can be a motivation

for having another good year. We feel like we’re a good ball club,

we feel like that we have some options this year going into spring

training.”

The top-hitting lineup in the majors will be basically

unchanged. The Rangers avoided salary arbitration with new deals

earlier this month for slugging outfielder and ALCS MVP Nelson

Cruz, catcher Mike Napoli and shortstop Elvis Andrus.

With those settled, the Rangers can look at possible extensions

for second baseman and leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler and some of their

young pitchers.

Josh Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, can become a free agent after

this season. Talks about an extension were put on hold after the

recovering drug addict’s admitted one-night relapse with alcohol

during the offseason.

Hamilton hit .298 with 25 home runs in 121 games last season,

when he missed six weeks with a broken bone in his arm, then had

sports hernia surgery in November after playing injured throughout

the postseason.

The Rangers and Hamilton were talking about a new deal and the

slugger had said he wouldn’t have contract talks once spring

training started. But that all changed after his night out in

Dallas on Jan. 30. He is undergoing counseling and expected to be a

full participant in spring training.

”Given what transpired last month, everyone involved agrees

it’s just not time to look at that,” general manager Jon Daniels

said. ”The priority needs to be his recovery and his family, and

then secondarily getting ready for the season. We’re not going to

get in the way of those things with contract talk.”

Daniels said he expected to talk again ”at some point” with

Mike Moye, Hamilton’s agent, but said he didn’t know if that would

be during the spring.

Darvish, who had a 93-38 record with a 1.99 ERA in 167 games the

past seven years in Japan’s Pacific League, signed a six-year

contract that guarantees him $56 million. The Rangers also had to

pay a record $51,703,411 posting bid to his former team, the

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

C.J. Wilson, who won 31 games for Texas the last two seasons

after making the transition from the bullpen, left in free agency

and is now pitching for the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels.

All five of the Rangers’ opening day starters remained in the

rotation all last season. That group included Wilson, Colby Lewis

(14-10), Derek Holland (16-5), Matt Harrison (14-9) and Alexi

Ogando (13-8), an All-Star starter after joining the rotation at

the end of last spring.

Scott Feldman was a 17-game winner for Texas in 2009 before

right knee surgery. And the Rangers have already decided to switch

hard-throwing closer Neftali Feliz to the rotation, a move possible

because of the offseason addition of veteran closer Joe Nathan.

The 32-year-old Lewis, who was originally drafted by Texas in

1999 and returned two years ago after his two seasons in Japan, is

the only Rangers starter not in his 20s.

”That’s certainly our hope that we’ve got not just a group

that’s ready to perform now but can perform over a period of time

at a high level,” Daniels said. ”Outside of Colby you can make a

pretty strong case that everyone else in the rotation, or candidate

for the rotation, has yet to reach their potential. That’s what’s

exciting about it for me.”