MINNEAPOLIS — Joe Saunders has been defiant in his belief that he is a starting pitcher and that the Texas Rangers didn’t sign him midway through spring training to be in their bullpen.The left-hander will be their starter Wednesday, in part because he’s now one of a select group of healthy pitchers.“I’m itching and twitching,” Saunders said. “It’s been long-awaited.”Saunders is confident that he will be better than he was April 4, when he allowed five runs (four earned) in 3 2/3 innings before Evan Longoria’s liner smacked his left foot and put him on the disabled list with hairline fractures.Those have cleared up, and so have his mechanics. Saunders said that a small tweak in which he stays back over the rubber and doesn’t rush to home plate has him in top form.“Stuffwise, I feel like it’s been the best it’s been in a very long time,” said Saunders, who will be working on seven days’ rest after his fourth rehab start. “It’s crazy how one little things can make a huge, enormous difference in how everything feels, comes out and locates.”The Rangers will have to make a roster move to clear a spot for Saunders as he is activated from the DL. Manager Ron Washington suggested that a pitcher will be sent out ahead of the Rangers’ upcoming series at Washington.“I’m getting ready to go against the National League,” he said. “So, I’m not going to be short on my bench.”Rios’ hot streakRight fielder Alex Rios had three hits Tuesday night and has now collected multiple hits in seven straight games.That is the longest streak in the majors this season and is the longest streak by a Rangers player since Rusty Greer did it in nine straight games in 2000.“It’s just happening,” Rios said. “No player can identify specifically something that is going good when things are going good. I think you can sustain it by having a good approach at the plate and sticking to your plan.”Rios entered Tuesday with the highest career average (.354) at Target Field.Minimum All-Stars?The Rangers are making their only trip to Target Field this season, and it’s possible that only one player will be coming back in July as the club’s representative at the All-Star Game.The first round of All-Star balloting for the American League team was released Tuesday, and the Rangers have no players leading at their position. Adrian Beltre ranks the highest as a distant third at third base.Every team has one representative. The Rangers will have to rely on the manager’s choice and player balloting to cram more than one player onto the roster.Rios rates 15th in voting among outfielders despite having the league’s second-best average (.330), third-most hits (67) and leading the league in triples (6). But he’s not sweating the early voting, nor will he mind if he doesn’t make the team.“Those four days off are essentials during the season,” Rios said. “It’s a chance to get a way for a little while and rest your body and your mind.”Shin-Soo Choo, who is eighth in outfield voting, said that he would have to consider not playing if picked so that he can rest his sore left ankle. Washington is for as much time off as his players can get.“I like them to have the break,” he said. “If it was my choice, whoever played well enough to be an All-Star, I would like them to be an All-Star.”Fielder surgeryFirst baseman Prince Fielder underwent cervical-fusion surgery in Dallas to fix a herniated disk in his neck, and spine specialist Dr. Drew Dossett reported that everything went as expected.The Rangers expect that Fielder will miss the rest of the season.Briefly• Washington passed Bobby Valentine for the most games managed in franchise history, with 1,187. Only three managers — Mike Scioscia (Angels), Ron Gardenhire (Twin) and Joe Maddon (Rays) — have longer tenures than Washington, who started in 2007.• Triple A coach Spike Owen has joined the team and will coach third base over the weekend as Gary Pettis heads to California to attend his son’s high school graduation.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST