The Texas Rangers should challenge for the AL West title, as usual, led by a strong rotation featuring Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison.
ARLINGTON, Texas — For the Texas Rangers, the focus is on who stayed in town, rather than who left.
There have been some big changes in the Texas lineup since last October, when the Rangers didn’t win a game. The big move was the departure of five-time All-Star and former AL MVP Josh Hamilton, now with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels.
Also gone are Michael Young, the franchise’s career hits leader who had been the longest-tenured Ranger, and slugging catcher Mike Napoli.
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And questions still linger about Hall of Fame pitcher and CEO Nolan Ryan’s future with the team.
The Rangers do seem set with their rotation, for this season and beyond, even after their failed offseason pursuit of top free agent Zack Greinke.
That is a far cry from the team whose ritual each spring not long ago was trying to cobble together starters.
Japanese ace Yu Darvish, 18-game winner Matt Harrison and Derek Holland are all 26 or 27 and are signed for at least four more seasons. Alexi Ogando, back in the rotation after spending last season in the bullpen, is under club control at least that long.
After a dominating seven seasons in Japan, Darvish won 16 games and was an All-Star as a major-league rookie last year. The right-hander finished strong, going 5-1 with a 2.35 earned-run average, 67 strikeouts and 15 walks his last eight starts of the regular season. And he has looked strong this spring.
“He’s commanding the ball a lot better,” manager Ron Washington said.
There’s no anticipation of a sophomore slump for Darvish, who appears at ease after a year to acclimate to a new league and new country. He said he feels better physically and mentally after a more routine offseason, as opposed to last year, when he made the transition to America under intense scrutiny.
“My comfort level is really high,” Darvish said through an interpreter.
Darvish will start the second game this season for the Rangers. Harrison will be the starter for the first game of the major-league season, when Texas plays Sunday at new AL West team Houston.
Joe Nathan had 37 saves in his first season as the Rangers’ closer. Left-hander Robbie Ross, the surprise out of camp last spring and potentially a starter, was 6-0 with a 2.22 ERA in 58 relief appearances as a rookie and will stay in the bullpen for now.
Even with Hamilton, Young and Napoli gone, the Rangers still have plenty of hitters, including newcomers Lance Berkman and catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
They just might have to produce runs a little differently. Hamilton and Napoli accounted for 67 of their 200 home runs last season, which ended with a second-place finish in the AL West and a loss to Baltimore in the AL’s first one-and-done wild-card game.
Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus will still top the batting order, with the switch-hitting Berkman expected to take over the No. 3 spot while coming off an injury-plagued season and only 32 games for St. Louis. Adrian Beltre, the Gold Glove-winning third baseman going into the third season of his five-year deal with Texas, hit .321 with 36 homers and 102 runs batted in last season.