Tribe goes for opening series sweep of Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas — Cole Hamels and the Texas Rangers struggled down the stretch in 2016.

The left-hander posted a 6.75 ERA over his final six starts and then was rocked in his playoff outing against the Toronto Blue Jays.

However, Hamels, who will make his 2017 debut opposite the Cleveland Indians’ Danny Salazar on Wednesday, looked the part of his old self this spring. Hamels allowed just one run over his final 11 Cactus League innings and is feeling good heading into his outing against the Indians.

Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. on SportsTime Ohio

Texas will need a strong effort by Hamels to avoid its first 0-3 start since 2007, and he feels as if he can deliver.

“It’s just really getting in some good work in spring, especially the number of innings I was able to accumulate put me in a position in knowing that the start I’m going to have on Wednesday is right on line for what I’m accustomed to and the comfort level will be there,” said Hamels, who is 1-2 with a 5.04 ERA in four career starts vs. the Indians. “It’s just knowing when Wednesday comes around everything is going to feel good.”

Hamels doesn’t just feel good about himself. He feels good about the staff, which explains why he doesn’t mind waiting until the third game of the season to get his first start.

“It’s just a number associated with who is pitching at a given time,” said Hamels, who is the No. 3 starter the first time through for Texas. “You can ask any of us when it’s our day to pitch it’s our day to pitch. The pitchers we have, especially when we get back (Andrew) Cashner, Tyson (Ross) and even A.J. (Griffin), it’s very beneficial. We have such a strong bullpen. We’ve got to try and keep it as fresh as possible.”

Hamels’ counterpart is also feeling good. It helps that Salazar is healthy, too. Right elbow discomfort limited him down the stretch in 2016, derailing a first half of the season that had him in the American League Cy Young Award conversation.

There have been no signs of discomfort this year, though. He struck out 37 batters in 26 spring innings, and now he faces a Texas team against which he is 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA. In his only start against the Rangers last year, Salazar struck out 10 batters in just 5 1/3 innings.

As comfortable as the Indians are with Salazar on the mound, they also are confident in facing Hamels. And with good reason. The Indians feasted on left-handed starters in 2016, going 31-20 in games started by lefties.

While Hamels is a good one, Cleveland is confident it what its offense can do against any starter. It starts at the top of the order, too. Carlos Santana split leadoff time with Rajai Davis last year, but with Davis gone, Santana has led off each of the first two games. It’s working, too. Santana had two hits Monday, and he led off the Tuesday game with a homer before adding an RBI single an inning later.

“I’m comfortable hitting Carlos anywhere,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “He’s just a good hitter. I’m kind of comfortable right now with him hitting first. He’s a guy that’s hit in the middle of the order and then now you come around with eight and nine and he’s sitting there, a switch hitter. I think Carlos is a good spot. You can hit him anywhere and he’s going to go play.”