March 27, 2013

Moreland, Darvish among spring stars as Rangers wrap camp

The Rangers are heading toward the regular season with answers to most preseason questions.

Spring training came to a merciful end for the Texas Rangers, who were headed home Wednesday night after what felt like seven months instead of seven weeks.

The march to the end was more like a sleepwalk.

“It’s kind like you’re in a fog and you’re just trudging ahead and the days don’t mean anything,” designated hitter Lance Berkman said. “You kind of lose track of how long you’ve been down here.”

Meaningful games are ahead, beginning Sunday with the season opener at Houston. The Rangers have exhibition games the next three days, and even have a couple of roster decisions left to make.

But the 25 guys who will be at Minute Maid Park have been largely decided, and the players who entered spring training needing to show something did so.

The Rangers will enter the season feeling much better about Mitch Moreland, Michael Kirkman, Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin, and feeling good overall about their chances after a good spring camp.

“I think it went extremely well,” manager Ron Washington said. “As we moved deeper into spring, we got better as a team and we progressed in the fashion I felt like we would progress. I feel good about it.”

Best hitter: Mitch Moreland

The Rangers made no bones about it in the off-season: Moreland needs to be productive in 2013 or possibly face an uncertain future. If spring training is any indication, the first baseman will be fine. Coming off a healthy off-season, Moreland entered Wednesday with a .400 average, and 10 of his 22 hits were for extra bases. His homers (four), RBIs (13) and slugging percentage (.727) were all team-highs.

Best pitcher: Yu Darvish

Everyone has raved about the work of Michael Kirkman, and deservedly so. But the spring numbers posted by Darvish in his second big-league camp are fairly staggering. He will enter his final preseason start Thursday night with a 1.98 ERA, a .167 opponents’ batting average, 15 strikeouts and a mere three walks. Those numbers look to be an extension of his strong finish to 2012.

Best development: Center field

Three players were said to be in competition for time in center field, though Julio Borbon never seemed to be considered seriously. Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin helped make it that way. Gentry and Martin have eased concerns that center field could be a weakness. They were a combined 38 for 111 (.342) entering Wednesday, with 13 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs. They also played well defensively.

Best talker: Lance Berkman

Court is in session whenever Berkman sits down to eat, is hanging around the batting cage or if someone just happens to stand next to him for five seconds. He’s not just telling stories, though he will spin a yarn or two. Berkman is passing on things he sees in the cage that might work for his teammates or passing on the knowledge of being a 14-year big-league veteran to younger players.

Best news: Health

Knock on the nearest piece of wood, but the Rangers left Arizona relatively healthy. The biggest injury was suffered by Martin Perez, who broke his arm March 3 and was knocked out of the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Reliever Kyle McClellan never got off the ground, but should be a factor in 2013. Colby Lewis and Joakim Soria are on schedule to return in late May. Berkman’s right knee has also held up.

Biggest drama: Nolan Ryan

The stay-or-go storyline involving the club’s CEO has gone silent after word spread in early March that Ryan would leave because he appeared to be stripped of decision-making power in light of Jon Daniels’ promotion to general manager/president of baseball operations. News could be coming soon, as Ryan reportedly could decide after fulfilling obligations this weekend tied to the exhibition games in San Antonio.

Biggest concern: Bullpen

The Rangers still have relief jobs available after no one outside of Kirkman seized jobs early on. That opened the door for Derek Lowe to make the team despite only three weeks of camp. Tanner Scheppers appears to be on the verge of securing a spot. That leaves Josh Lindblom, Cory Burns and Joe Ortiz to grab the last opening. Help (Soria) is coming, but the first two months could be dicey.

Biggest surprise: Nick Tepesch

It’s not the performance of Gentry, though Washington says it is. Tepesch grabs that prize, following in the footsteps of Robbie Ross and Mason Tobin as out-of-nowhere players to make the team out of spring training. Tepesch, who has never played above Double A, will be the No. 5 starter. Big deal? Remember this: The Rangers lost the final 10 games in 2012 started by the No. 5 guy in the rotation.

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