Rangers say goodbye, desert, and hello, Texas

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The next time the Texas Rangers play a baseball game will be back in the Lone Star State, and the players who broke spring camp Sunday couldn't be happier to be headed home.

That's not a slight against the folks at the Surprise Recreation Campus and across the Cactus League. But it's time for some meaningful baseball after six weeks in the desert.

The Rangers will trudge through three more exhibition games today, Tuesday and Wednesday before opening the 2012 season Friday afternoon at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

They will do so as the two-time defending American League champions and with external expectations at an all-time high. Nothing happened over the course of spring training to tell the Rangers that a third straight trip to the World Series is a pipe dream.

Just because their camp was relatively quiet and uneventful doesn't mean that they're headed toward the same kind of regular season. Spring training is supposed to be a smooth ride, and the Rangers have enjoyed one as they prep for a three-peat in 2012.

"It's been extremely smooth," said second baseman Ian Kinsler, who led the team with five home runs. "There really haven't been any problems. I think everyone is ready. It's been a productive camp."

The Rangers are scheduled to fly to Round Rock this morning and will do so without their final roster in place.

They continue to seek a right-handed-hitting outfielder as a final bench piece, and are still looking at Brandon Snyder. They also haven't determined if Alberto Gonzalez or Luis Hernandez will be their utility infielder.

Otherwise, it appears as though Craig Gentry will make the team as an extra player, and the injury to Neal Cotts opened the door for Robbie Ross to be the left-hander in the bullpen.

Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe, who are making a combined $5.7 million this season, are favorites to land the final two bullpen spots ahead of Yoshinori Tateyama, who is a candidate for the disabled list with a back injury. He can also be optioned to the minor leagues.

All Major League Baseball teams must submit their Opening Day rosters by 11 a.m. Wednesday.

"Our intention is to take it as far as we can," manager Ron Washington said. "We're getting close."

The Rangers wrapped up the spring schedule at 12-17-1, 13th in the 15-team AL and 14th in the 15-team Cactus League. But the Rangers finished with a flurry, going 6-1 in the final seven games. The loss came when the majority of the regulars had the day off.

Even though Josh Hamilton (groin), Adrian Beltre (back), Nelson Cruz (hand) and Elvis Andrus (hip flexor) missed games late while nursing minor injuries, all four are expected to be in the lineup Friday against Chicago.

Neftali Feliz (shoulder tightness) also became a concern, but he appears to have shaken that off after logging 152 pitches in two outings last week.

Mitch Moreland (wrist), Mike Napoli (ankle) and Mike Adams (hernia) entered camp with injury concerns, but they are good to go.

And then there's the Yu Darvish factor, which peaked Friday after he struck out 11 in six innings against Colorado.

"We're excited about the opportunity we have in front of us," Adams said. "We know what kind of talent we have in this clubhouse, and we know opportunities don't present themselves every year."

The Rangers are facing a deeper field this season as they try to return to a third straight World Series. Anaheim and Detroit are considered the top threats to unseat the Rangers, and New York, Tampa Bay and Boston aren't exactly pushovers.

"There are a lot of good teams, and I think some teams are getting overlooked," general manager Jon Daniels said. "It's going to be a challenge, and our depth is going to be tested. It should be a fun race.

There is also the odds factor. The Yankees are the only team since 1990 to go to at least three straight Fall Classics.

But another year of experience and development, not to mention Darvish and relatively good health while leaving Arizona, are in the Rangers' favor.

"I don't know why last year determines our odds this year," Kinsler said. "This is a completely different year. There's got to be a team from the American League, and there's no reason why it can't be us."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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