Lot to like about Texas Rangers in assessing their spring

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 21, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Today's games

vs. Chicago Cubs, 3:05 p.m., Surprise Stadium

TV: Webcast Radio: None

Rangers probable pitchers: RHP Colby Lewis, RHP Mark Lowe, RHP Koji Uehara, RHP Yoshinori Tateyama, RHP Joe Nathan, RHP Sean Green, LHP Mitch Stetter

Cubs probable pitchers: RHP Matt Garza, RHP Rafael Dolis, LHP James Russell, RHP Frankie De La Cruz, RHP Marcos Mateo

at Cincinnati Reds, 9:05 p.m., Goodyear Ballpark

TV: None Radio: None

Rangers probable pitchers: RHP Scott Feldman, LHP Michael Kirkman, LHP Neal Cotts, LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Tanner Scheppers, LHP Ben Snyder

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Cactus League championship, it appears, won't be coming back to Arlington again this year, and that's just fine with the Texas Rangers.

There wasn't an inkling of worry about their lousy 5-12 record as they enjoyed their only off day of spring training Wednesday. Instead, the Rangers are comforted by the overall health of the club and the performances turned in by the 20 or so players who will be significant contributors once the regular season opens April 6.

Neftali Feliz's tight right shoulder startled some, but the injury appears minor after he received treatment Wednesday and noted improvement. He isn't scheduled for an MRI exam.

For now, Feliz remains one of the five starters in the rotation, but Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando are at the ready in case he isn't healthy by the time camp ends.

Pitching has been the story so far at the Surprise Recreation Campus, and not just because of Yu Darvish and Feliz. The offense is expected to pick up the rest of the way as regulars play more and get more at-bats. Here is a look at spring training so far:

Best position players

2B Ian Kinsler: Free from injuries, Kinsler is finding his stride after the second 30-30 season of his career. He's also found his stroke, hitting .429 and having success going to right field. He led the league in hitting at the All-Star break in 2008 because of his success to the opposite field.

SS Elvis Andrus: Bigger, stronger and wiser, Andrus is getting the veteran treatment at camp. He started off as the Rangers' hottest hitter and hasn't cooled much since that torrid first week. And he has flashed the leather, too, continuing his strong finish to 2011.

He said it: "We want be the best we can. It's as simple as that. We hit next to each other, we're both up the middle on defense, and we pride ourselves on base running. It's a lot of fun to have a partner in crime."

-- Kinsler on how good of a double-play combo he and Andrus can be.

Best pitchers

LHP Derek Holland: Another player who is noticeably stronger this spring, Holland looks like a beast on the mound. He's also attacking hitters by working quickly and throwing strikes. Club personnel are in awe at how far he has come since 2009.

LHP Matt Harrison: While Harrison isn't necessarily stronger, he also has been an imposing figure on the mound. He's always good in spring training, but last year carried it over to the regular season. He's humble, which keeps him believing he has to earn his rotation spot.

He said it: "I feel pretty comfortable with those two guys pitching. It's kind of funny in this game. You talk about, 'We've got to split up our lefties.' Well, why don't we split up our righties? No one ever brings that one up."

-- Pitching coach Mike Maddux on the possibility of splitting Holland and Harrison with a right-hander

Best impressions

RHP Yu Darvish: His new teammates have made him feel at ease while transitioning from Japan, and he's doing his part to make them feel comfortable with him. Not only is Darvish trying to master English, he's giving Spanish a shot, too. On the mound, he's got the right stuff.

3B Mike Olt: It's clear that Olt is a quality player, even though he has never played above High A. Just as impressive as his talent has been the way he has handled himself in his first big league camp. Olt watches each play of each game, and hasn't been afraid to ask veterans for advice.

LHP Robbie Ross: He has been the best left-handed reliever in camp and is now getting a closer look. The Rangers are weighing whether sticking him in the bullpen is more important than continuing to let him develop in the minor leagues as a starting pitcher.

Job hunt

Center field: Julio Borbon is having the best camp of his career and has made this race interesting. Craig Gentry hasn't performed as he and the Rangers had hoped. Leonys Martin has improved, but he'll be at Triple A Round Rock. Josh Hamilton is the wild card here.

Utility man/bench: Alberto Gonzalez has major league experience, so he has the upper hand over Luis Martinez and Greg Miclat to be the utility infielder. Veterans Conor Jackson and Brad Hawpe need strong finishes to be considered for a bench spot.

Bullpen: The Rangers want a lefty reliever, but haven't been blown away by anyone. Ross has been good, but he'll start to face better competition this week. Michael Kirkman remains the favorite. Yoshinori Tateyama and Mark Lowe are competing for a middle-relief role.

Areas of concern

Injuries: The Rangers have avoided the significant injury that has plagued them the past few years. Feliz's injury doesn't seem serious, and certainly isn't a reason to call Roy Oswalt. Mike Napoli has been slowed by ankle and groin issues, but will get his at-bats before camp breaks.

Power outage: The Rangers have only 14 homers, and only five from lineup regulars. Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Napoli have been shut out. Kinsler, Martin and Yangervis Solarte, now in the minors, share the team lead at two. Power is a process. Look for more the final 11 days.

Koji Uehara: The veteran from Japan will make the Opening Day roster, and his scoreless inning Tuesday was an encouraging sign after he allowed homers in each of his first three outings. He can be very good, but also seems to have no margin for error with his location.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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