Texas Rangers' Opening Day starter likes being under the radar

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- So far this spring, Yu Darvish has been the king of the written word, the sound bite, the TV segment and the photo gallery, but he's not the only member of the Texas Rangers' rotation getting some pub.

Neftali Feliz's progress is a storyline. Derek Holland's hair -- the mane and the mustache -- continues to be notable, as does Matt Harrison's tale of rotation survival.

Then, there's Colby Lewis, the Rangers' starter on, ahem, Opening Day.

He saunters into the clubhouse each morning, heads to the mound every other day, and simply goes about his business. All without a peep, unless a Japanese reporter is asking him about Darvish.

"Good," Lewis said Thursday morning. "I like it."

At 32, he's the veteran on a young pitching staff and also is in the last year of the contract he signed after reviving his career in Japan.

The uncertainty for 2013 isn't much of a bother, just as Lewis doesn't seem to be bothered by much of anything else. But that's Lewis, whether in the postseason, in the spotlight of Opening Day, or on a back field at the Surprise Recreation Campus.

"I'm going to go out there and do a job anyway," Lewis said. "It's just the older you get, the more comfortable you get. That's all it is. You know what to expect."

The Rangers are expecting Lewis to make all of his starts and log 200 innings. He did that the past two seasons before emerging as the best postseason pitcher in club history.

He did it in 2011 with an achy hip and a fastball that averaged only 88.9 mph. Opponents had a .504 slugging percent against the fastball, but Lewis said his fastball command, not the velocity, had more to do with surrendering a league-high 35 homers.

But he didn't ignore the issue. Lewis said that he came to camp 10 pounds heavier than in 2011 and hopes to be stronger and stretched out sooner this season.

"I'll have no idea until I start ripping on it," said Lewis, who allowed one hit in a scoreless inning during the Rangers' intrasquad game Thursday. "It might have been a situation where I was a little weak. It didn't really matter how hard I threw. My location wasn't very good, either."

Lewis managed to win 14 games with the help of a plus slider, a better understanding of how to pitch, and with guts.

The other four starters in the projected season-opening rotation all throw harder, but can be better by following Lewis' lead on pitching inside and challenging hitters to put the ball in play.

"He's been there and done it all," Holland said. "He might not throw 98, but he shows he's not scared to go inside. His motto is, like, 'Here it is. Go after it.' We know we can do those types of things, too, if we focus like he does and carry ourselves like he does."

Lewis rates as one of baseball's best bargains at $3.25 million this year. His price tag is likely to rise if he proves to be durable and a winner again in 2012.

The Rangers, meanwhile, could have top pitching prospect Martin Perez ready to jump into the rotation, and add to its youth and potential.

Like anything else -- from performing under pressure to going about his work without much acclaim -- Lewis isn't sweating what could happen next off-season.

"If you're healthy and you throw 200 innings, I'm going to put myself in position to help my team out a lot," he said. "If they want me back, they'll bring me back. If not, we'll just shake hands and move on."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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