Sports

Texas Rangers starters have been a highlight of spring training

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- No matter the negative circumstance, Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington finds a way to stay positive.

He believes that an expression of concern about any facet of his club, even in light of a key injury or a player leaving in the off-season via free agency, gives his players a reason to worry.

So the vote of confidence Washington gave to the Rangers' starting rotation Tuesday shouldn't come as a surprise, but it also is based upon evidence presented this spring.

Even with Neftali Feliz dealing with tightness in his right shoulder, which appears to be of minimal concern after he pitched in a minor-league game Tuesday night, the starters have been the highlight of spring camp.

The belief, both internally and throughout baseball, is the Rangers' staff has the potential to be the best since Washington took over in 2007. That's saying something, because the 2011 group won 74 games and posted a 3.65 ERA.

As the days tick down to Opening Day, the rotation rates as the least of Washington's worries.

"These guys have a little more experience under their belt, another year, and they certainly have been doing a good job down here," Washington said.

"They're thinking a little better. Their pitch sequence has been a little better, and their confidence level has been better. We expect these guys to grow."

Derek Holland and Matt Harrison had their doubters last year, along with Alexi Ogando. Feliz and Yu Darvish might be subject to hesitancy by some this year, but Washington is comforted by what they've done in the past.

Feliz was groomed in the minor leagues as a starter, which Washington says helps to ease some concern about how he will fare while transitioning from the closer's role.

Feliz has seen his innings limited because of shoulder tightness, but Washington has seen effective off-speed pitches and a good approach to hitters.

"The only thing I'm concerned about Neffy with is his health," Washington said. "I saw pitchability. I've seen it. He showed it. He's capable. It's just a matter of him going out there in the right frame and executing his pitches and committing to them."

Feliz threw 68 pitches (41 strikes) Tuesday night over four innings against Kansas City's Double A team. He allowed three runs (one earned) on six hits while walking one and striking out three.

His fastball was clocked as fast as 96 mph.

Feliz left his first game action since March 20 without any issues with his shoulder and said he's ready to join the Rangers' rotation to start the regular season.

"I feel good, and my arm feels good," said Feliz, who focused on keeping his pitches down in the zone. "I feel like I'm ready for the season."

Darvish was the best pitcher in Japan most of the past seven years, he but will be facing more complete lineups as a major-league rookie. His strength early on could be that opposing teams are unfamiliar with him, but he will survive this season because of his wide arsenal of pitches.

If one or two pitches aren't effective, he has five others to lean on.

"I do believe that his competitive spirit and the way he goes about his business and the arsenal that he has, he'll figure it out," said Washington, who is also a believer that the projected rotation -- Colby Lewis, Holland, Harrison, Darvish and Feliz -- will be just fine as the Rangers try to go to a third straight World Series.

"They compete. They have the stuff to be successful. There will be times when there are hiccups, and we'll help them fight through those hiccups, but I have no apprehension whatsoever. I know those guys are going to do a good job."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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