Not all about Yu: Ryan loves Rangers' pitching potential

Japanese star part of area, pitching, where Rangers have most upside, Ryan says

02/22/2012 11:08 PM

03/24/2013 1:08 AM

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The gang is all here, or at least the gang that throws off a mound and the guys who catch them.

Wednesday was reporting day for Texas Rangers pitchers and catchers, who will hold their first official spring workout this morning. Many have been here for at least a week, and they had all been accounted for by the afternoon.

Included were Japanese star Yu Darvish, Neftali Feliz and the rest of the projected starting rotation; probable bullpen piece Alexi Ogando, who will prepare as a starter; and closer Joe Nathan, who seems to have found the Fountain of Youth.

Team president Nolan Ryan was also in camp as coaches and front-office members gathered for their annual precamp dissection of players and their roles for 2012.

At first glance, Ryan likes what the Rangers will take to the mound this spring and into the season as they try to three-peat as American League champs.

"If you want to look at our ballclub, the area where we have more upside than any other area is with our pitching staff," Ryan said.

"And mainly our starting staff because of the youth we have in there. I don't think those guys have reached the level I think they're going to, and that includes Yu."

The Rangers' rotation is more youthful and has more ability than it has had in several seasons. But neither the rotation nor bullpen comes without a few unanswered questions.

Darvish, for instance, has to adjust to a new baseball, much better hitters and a new culture. But Ryan said that Darvish has an advantage because of his control and feel for his pitches.

It was something Ryan didn't have when he was 25, as Darvish is now.

"I still had a control problem. I was very durable, but I didn't have the feel for the baseball or my delivery as he does with his," Ryan said.

"That's one of the unique things about him. He's still a very young pitcher, and he has a great delivery, great control of his delivery, and he has a good feel for the baseball."

Feliz also has some things to prove. The Rangers told him in November that he will be in the rotation, and the prep time has served him well physically and mentally.

Feliz said that his goal this spring will be to refine his changeup and slider after surviving as a closer the past two seasons with a fastball that topped 100 mph.

He also worked on strengthening his lower half and ran more than ever.

"The hardest thing is going to be the pitch count and the pitches I'm going to throw," Feliz said. "I've done more leg training and running so that I have the tolerance to handle the pitch counts and innings."

Ogando is better suited to handle the innings this year than last, when the Rangers pulled the reins on him late in the year. They also moved him into the bullpen for the postseason, and he was a weapon in the first two rounds.

He appears to be ticketed for a relief role again this season, barring a springtime injury. But he is on a starter's schedule this spring.

"My mind is on starting," Ogando said. "All I can control is to go out there and do what I can. I'm going to do what I can do in whatever job I'm given and give it my best."

Nathan is almost two years removed from Tommy John surgery, and he felt like a 20-something this winter while working out at the University of Tennessee.

From the first gym session, he never paused to think about how the transplanted elbow ligament was feeling. The resulting freedom allowed him to push himself as he did earlier in his career.

The off-season, as well as a strong push at the end of last season, has eased his mind of worry about how he will perform in the first year of a two-year, $14.5 million contract.

"This is the best I've felt coming in for Day One in a long time," said Nathan, who threw his seventh bullpen session of the off-season Tuesday. "I had a great workout this winter and have been looking forward to this day for a long time."

Colby Lewis and Scott Feldman, who are scheduled to pitch multiple innings in the first Cactus League game March 4, will be the only pitchers who won't throw today. Mike Adams (hernia) could also be limited.

The other 29 will work for five minutes in the bullpen before throwing live batting practice for five more.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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