Texas Rangers manager says health is key as spring games begin

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- A manager always has questions about his team entering spring training, and oftentimes the answers don't present themselves until the end of camp or even the first month of the regular season.

True to his profession, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington has a laundry list of things he needs to see pick up this month to help soothe his nerves by Opening Day.

But the checklist this year isn't as long as it has been the past few seasons as the Rangers break ground today on the 31-game Cactus League schedule.

Only one starting position is unsettled, and only two or three supporting roles can be claimed. Of greater curiosity are the health of a few players and the effectiveness of two newcomers to the starting rotation.

Bumps in the road can always spring up, but the Rangers have had a smooth ride so far at the Surprise Recreation Campus.

"To me it's gotten to the point now where a lot of the guys are settling into their roles," infielder Michael Young said. "They're veteran enough where they know how to prepare and get ready for a season.

"It's just a matter of staying strong and tightening up parts of the game. Everyone has something they really want to work on and tackle while we're down here."

Washington plans to play the Rangers' regulars today against Kansas City, but cautioned that the batting order might not be the one he uses Opening Day.

The starting position players will play four innings before giving way to substitutes, and starting pitcher Colby Lewis will work two innings at Surprise Stadium.

"I'm totally satisfied," Washington said. "I think they're ready. We'll kick it off tomorrow, go through the schedule and get these guys ready for April.

"The routine we've been on the last two weeks can get old. Now, we'll review everything every single morning, but now at least they have a game to look forward to every afternoon."

The Rangers survived the early part of camp without any fresh injuries to significant contributors. In years past, outfielder Josh Hamilton, third baseman Adrian Beltre and left-hander Derek Holland have suffered injuries that set them back for the start of games.

Players who had off-season surgery or a late-season injury have performed beyond expectations.

Right-hander Mike Adams, who had hernia surgery in January, is back on pace, and closer Joe Nathan has quieted concerns about any lingering effects of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2010.

First baseman Mitch Moreland, who had a bone removed from his wrist in November, hasn't had any health issues and will start today. So will catcher Mike Napoli, whose sprained left ankle continues to improve.

"My swing feels really good, but it's still early," Moreland said. "I still have a ways to go with some of the stuff I'm trying to work on. Physically, I feel great."

As always, health is the primary concern. A late-camp injury last year to Tommy Hunter threw the Rangers a curveball only a week before the regular season.

The goal is to keep key contributors out of the training room and in the lineup.

"The one thing that I'm looking for the most is that we stay healthy and these guys get their repetitions," Washington said. "That's it. I've always said they can play. We just need to make sure we get them their repetitions and the things they need to get ready, and see what happens once the season starts."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760


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