The most crowded part of the Texas Rangers’ spring clubhouse the past six weeks was the training room, and that’s never a good thing.
Some soreness and lingering rehab from injuries the previous season aren’t unusual early in camp, or even at the midpoint of the Cactus League schedule. But Rangers players took camp ailments to an extreme this year, especially over their final week in the desert.
Starting shortstop Elvis Andrus dealt with an elbow issue. Starting pitcher Yu Darvish woke up one morning with neck tightness. Starting second baseman Jurickson Profar tore a muscle in his shoulder. Starting catcher Geovany Soto needed surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Those piled onto the cautious approach being taken with Matt Harrison’s back and Colby Lewis’ hip, and Derek Holland’s ongoing recovery from microfracture surgery on his left knee.
The healthy players probably would have raced to the charter plane home last week, if not for the fear that someone else might get hurt.
From that group, only Andrus will be on the active roster Monday when the Rangers open the 2014 season at Globe Life Park. No one could have predicted the 25 players who will take on Philadelphia.
But the panic that has gripped the fan base doesn’t have the same hold on the Rangers. Injuries, the players say, are part of the game. The replacements, the players say, are high-caliber players.
The playoffs, the players say, are well within reach despite a spring that will be remembered as the most injury riddled in franchise history. The chase, albeit with a limp, begins at 1 p.m. Monday.
“I think we have a great team right now, even with the injuries,” Andrus said. “You want to be healthy to start the season and compete during the season. The good thing is we have a really deep farm system, and we have a lot of guys that we know are going to step up and do the job.
“It’s going to happen. Somebody every year is going to get hurt. I wish it didn’t happen, but that’s just baseball. You’ve got to fight through it, and whoever is in the lineup, just be ready.”
Andrus said that Opening Day is like the mythical Fountain of Youth. All aches and pains go away, at least temporarily.
The Rangers will take any relief they can get after every player in the projected Opening Day lineup hit the injury report at some point during spring camp. Only baseball’s current Iron Man, Prince Fielder, was nick-free.
But that’s not to say that he wasn’t sore after the first few days. Players can prepare as much as possible for the daily spring grind, but nothing in the weight room can replicate a full day on the field.
“Spring training takes a little bit of a toll,” said right fielder Alex Rios, who missed more than a week of Cactus League games because of a strained right oblique muscle. “As soon as you get home, it feels so much different. It gets everybody fired up. That’s what we’ve been preparing for.”
But even Rios admits that the roster the Rangers will have for at least one game — catcher Chris Gimenez’s required stay on the roster can be removed as soon as Tuesday — will feel different than what had been anticipated.
The losses of Holland, Profar and Soto have dropped the Rangers from their midwinter status as favorites in the American League West to as low as third, according to some pundits. Not having Darvish, Holland or Lewis for a few weeks hasn’t helped.
But manager Ron Washington admitted that the roster will be ever-changing.
A rotation that currently includes 2013 relievers Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross and prospect Nick Martinez will be entirely different by late April. Profar, Soto and Holland should be back by the All-Star break, if not sooner.
The Rangers, though, aren’t just looking to hold on. They’re looking to win — now — despite an injury-filled spring they would rather forget.
“It’s certainly been one that I certainly don’t want to go through again,” Washington said. “Through all that I’ve certainly been very happy with the attitude and the commitment that those guys are showing to each other. I think that’s what you need during times of adversity, pulling together as a group. They certainly have done that.
“They have not let anything that happened so far in our spring training affect the way they think and the way they go about their business.”