Angels, Rangers already playing mind games

TEMPE, Ariz. – And to think, it seemed like this Texas Rangers-Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim rivalry had all the makings of one those baseball feuds.

Just a couple weeks ago, Angels lefthander C.J. Wilson tweeted his former Rangers catcher Mike Napoli’s cell phone number to all his followers. Why? Because Wilson claimed he heard Napoli telling people he wanted to hit a couple home runs off Wilson.

And then came word earlier in the week that the Angels would pitch Wilson in a minor league game on Sunday so he could avoid facing his old teammates.

The Rangers? They not only had their Japanese import, Yu Darvish, pitch in intrasquad game Sunday so they could deny the Angels a sneak preview, but they also had Matt Harrison work a minor league game on Saturday.

Not that either side wants to act as if there is any bad blood between the two AL West teams that matched up for the only time this spring on Saturday and Sunday, the Angels winning 3-2 at Texas’ facility in Surprise on Saturday and 6-5 at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Sunday.

As Michael Young, the acknowledged leader in the Rangers clubhouse, said last week, “This is the Cactus League. We have another 10 days to get ready (after the weekend).  When the season starts, that’s when the game is important.”

Even when the season starts, it’s more about taking care of business than the bitterness that hangs over the century-old Red Sox-Yankee rivalry. But then, the Angels and the Rangers, combined, barely have a century of history, having both been created in the initial major-league expansion of 1961.

“Why would I hate?” Rangers manager Ron Washington told writers covering the Rangers. “All I want to do is win.”

So far, so good.

The Rangers have, after all, not only won back-to-back AL West titles, but also back-to-back AL pennants. Those happen to be the only World Series trips they have made since their inception as the expansion Washington Senators.

And they finished 10 games ahead of the Angels both time.

That should be more than enough to fire up the emotions.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia, however, was playing it cool. He wouldn’t even admit he had any sinister motivation for starting Trevor Bell, the grandson of Bozo the Clown, instead of the Angels newest joker, Wilson.

“Just trying to get my team ready,” said Scioscia. “It’s not about who we play (in an exhibition game). We’re going to do what gets our pitcher ready.”

Translation: March 24, 25 isn’t really very significant to either the Angels or the Rangers.

May 11, however, well that’s a different story. That’s when the two division rivals meet for the first 19 regular-season games. Rest assured the pitching matchup that day isn’t about to be a rematch of Sunday’s Trevor Bell-Mark Hamburger duel in the desert.

Maybe it’s best to wait a while before too many emotions surface.

There probably isn’t a whole lot more to say this spring other than what was said by the winter actions of the Angels. Those were efforts to quell the frustration that building within that franchise after watching the Rangers dominate the division.

Scioscia, who guided the Angels to five division titles in the six years prior to the Rangers rise to the AL West top, survived. Angels general manager Tony Reagins and his top aides did not.

New general manager Jerry DiPoto rebuilt the scouting and player development departments, and of more immediate concern oversaw a spending spree that included the signing of free agents Wilson (5 years, $77.5 million) and Albert Pujols (10 years, $240 million), and acquisition of catcher Chris Iannetta from Colorado.

“The last couple of years we edged them out and they didn’t want that to happen anymore,” said Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. “They wanted to get better and I think they did.”

And if that isn’t enough to get the Angels attention, the Rangers are 49-46 against the Angels during the regular season since Washington took over as manager in 2007. The only other AL teams with winning records against the Angels during that stretch are the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox.

The Rangers, however, didn’t sit idly by and watch the Angels reload.

The Rangers already had ample offense. They have scored more runs in the last two seasons (1,642) than any team in baseball other than the New York Yankees (1,726) and Boston Red Sox (1,693).

Wilson, however, had been their No. 1 starter, so  they did counter his loss to free agency by winning the bidding for the rights to sign Japanese icon Yu Darvish ($51.7 million), and then signed Darvish to a six-year, $56 million deal.

And rest assured, the Angels are aware of everything the Rangers have done, including nabbing Wilson, who helped Texas have its success and now is focused on helping the Angels ended Texas’ AL West run.

“They are the AL champions,” he said. “They are the team to beat. They are in our division. They are who we have to beat.”

That is, the Rangers are who the Angels have to beat during the regular season.