Texas Rangers: 2014 Spring training preview

Joe Saunders not worried with results -- yet

March, 29, 2014
3/29/14
4:01
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SAN ANTONIO -- Joe Saunders says he isn't worried about results, especially at the strange confines of Alamodome. If that means he'll be able to forget about them, that's a good thing for him.

But the time for worrying about results starts next week. That's when it matters. And Saunders' spring training performance since joining the Rangers -- 16 earned runs on 24 hits in 12 2/3 innings in "A" games or exhibitions (including Saturday) this spring -- isn't something pleasurable to stare at on paper.

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"You can't focus on results," Saunders said. "You focus on mechanics and strikes and making your pitches. Those are fly balls. I felt good. Today's outing was more about where my arm was at and I felt good."

No doubt, some of the runs given up Saturday were ridiculous. Jesus Guzman's home run would have been a routine fly ball to right in Arlington, but with the short wall in San Antonio, there was no chance. But George Springer's straightaway center shot was a good one and the Astros got some other hard-hit balls off Saunders. His line in the finale of Big League Weekend against the Houston Astros: 4 1/3 inning pitched, eight hits, seven earned runs, two walks, sevens strikeouts.

Saunders, who took a bouncer off the back of his left knee in the first inning but stayed in, said he is over the "dead-arm" stuff that plagued him in his last start and added that he's "100 percent" and ready to go. The knee was bruised and Saunders, knowing he had to throw a bunch of pitches (he ended up at 87) wasn't coming out so close to the season.

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Yu Darvish set to play catch Saturday

March, 27, 2014
3/27/14
10:25
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish will not travel with the team to San Antonio and will instead play catch in Arlington on Saturday and then throw off flat ground under the watchful eye of pitching coach Mike Maddux on Sunday.

"Then we'll put together a plan from there," manager Ron Washington said.

Darvish did some light jogging in the outfield at Globe Life Park prior to Thursday's game and watched from the dugout. He was scratched from his Opening Day start after his neck stiffness prevented him from throwing. Darvish was checked out by Dr. Drew Dossett on Wednesday and an MRI showed no structural issues.

The club will slowly get Darvish back up to speed and no timetable for his return has been determined yet.

Tanner Scheppers to start Opening Day

March, 26, 2014
3/26/14
1:49
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers have named their starting rotation for the 2014 season. And it includes no one who was in the rotation to open the 2013 season. Heck, there's only one guy who was nearly guaranteed a spot when spring training began.

[+] EnlargeScheppers
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTanner Scheppers will be just the second pitcher since 1945 to make his first major league start in a team's season opener. Fernando Valenzuela was the last to do it.
That pitcher is Martin Perez. And he won't even be the club's Opening Day starter. Texas opted to go with Tanner Scheppers, who at 27 years old, is actually one of the elder statesman of a rotation whose average age is 25.6 years old. Joe Saunders, at 32, is the oldest. By far.

Rather than have Perez, who started Game 163 last year in Arlington and lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, get the nod on Opening Day, the Rangers opted for Scheppers, who spent last season as one of the club's primary setup men. He pitched well enough this spring to earn a spot in the rotation last week and is on schedule to pitch Monday. Yu Darvish, who was supposed to start on Opening Day, will not start the season in the rotation because of a stiff neck. He was checked out Wednesday by Dr. Drew Dossett in Dallas and an MRI showed no structural damage. Darvish is slated to play catch Saturday and then the club will figure out a plan to work him back into game shape.

But it means Scheppers becomes the club's sixth different Opening Day starter and, perhaps, the most unlikely. When spring began, it seemed more likely Scheppers would end up in the bullpen rather than the rotation. But Scheppers' solid spring performance combined with injuries and struggles of others thrust him into the rotation. And now, he'll be the first Ranger -- after Hall of Famer Greg Maddux throws out the ceremonial first pitch -- to throw a pitch in 2014.

Perez, 23, hopes this season validates what he did last year. He's had a good and uneventful spring, a rarity for Rangers' pitchers. He will start Game 2 against the Phillies. Left-hander Robbie Ross, who wanted to start and has taken advantage of the opportunity, will complete that first series. Like Scheppers, Ross' candidacy for the rotation was a longer shot than most when spring began. But he just kept getting outs and going deeper into games. On Tuesday, Ross pitched seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts against a Cleveland lineup with plenty of regulars. That cinched his spot. He struggled to get left-handed batters out in 2013, but has done a better job against them in Arizona the past five weeks.

Nick Martinez is the surprise. The 23-year-old right-hander threw 32 innings in Double-A Frisco last year after starting the year in Class A Myrtle Beach. He had a 1.12 ERA in that limited action in Frisco, but also posted a 2.87 ERA in Class A. It's unclear how many starts Martinez might make -- the club doesn't need him until April 8, based on the schedule. It also shows the club didn't want to ask Alexi Ogando to go back to starting after putting him in the bullpen a few days ago. He's had trouble with his command this spring and they're sticking with him in the pen.

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Injuries could help Wash's job security

March, 26, 2014
3/26/14
7:45
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Could the rash of injuries that's taken hold of the Texas Rangers this spring provide an added layer of job security for manager Ron Washington?

The short answer is yes. Certainly, Washington and the rest of the Rangers are under pressure this season to contend. The club made back-to-back World Series trips in 2010 and 2011, but that's getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. The Oakland A's have won the division the last two seasons and the Rangers have played in one postseason game in that span, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in the AL wild-card game in 2012 after a late-season collapse. The Rangers have spent money and resources to acquire talent for this season and with that comes the expectation of postseason play.

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But this isn't a case of the manager needing to make the postseason to keep his job. Washington received a contract extension this spring, which should limit the questions about his status as manager should the team experience some hard times. But it was only a one-year extension, meaning that it doesn't guarantee he's the manager in 2015, only that he'll get paid if he's not.

But how can Washington be blamed for all the injuries? The manager heads into the season with Martin Perez or Tanner Scheppers as the two leading candidates to start Opening Day. His ace, Yu Darvish, is getting examined today by a back specialist to see what's going on with what everyone thought was just a stiff neck, and won't be ready for Opening Day. Jurickson Profar, the starting second baseman, is out 10 to 12 weeks. So is starting catcher Geovany Soto, taking from the rotation a backstop who had developed chemistry over the last year and a half with the pitching staff.

Washington's likely closer Neftali Feliz couldn't find his velocity or any consistent command this spring and was optioned to minor league camp on Tuesday. Alexi Ogando, once penciled into the rotation, pitched is way out of it and back to the bullpen. The starting rotation currently has two official members, less than a week before Opening Day, though Robbie Ross' performance on Tuesday has to get him a spot in the rotation, right? Also, starting shortstop Elvis Andrus is dealing with soreness in his shoulder and elbow after not throwing this offseason.

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Which injury could have biggest impact?

March, 25, 2014
3/25/14
7:45
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DarvishAP Photo/Tony GutierrezGeovany Soto's absence will be felt, especially as Yu Darvish's primary catcher.

Unfortunately for the Texas Rangers, the club has a long list of injuries impacting Opening Day and beyond. But the spring training injuries that are likely to have the biggest bearing on how this team does early in the season happened in the last two days.

Both Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto are out 10 to 12 weeks. Profar tore a muscle in his shoulder and won't require surgery, but will need plenty of rest. Soto tore his meniscus in his left knee and will need surgery.

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Those, of course, aren't the only injuries this spring. Matt Harrison's soft mattress has cost him the chance to open the season in the rotation. Yu Darvish has a stiff neck that calls into question whether he'll make his Opening Day start. Elvis Andrus didn't throw in the offseason and that's altered his spring and preparation for the season.

So which of these injuries will have the biggest impact?

This may surprise some of you, but I'm taking Soto. No doubt, the lack of great options to play second base makes the Profar injury a rough one for this team. But to not have the club's starting catcher for three months impacts everything from the lineup to the pitching staff as a whole.

Soto's batting average since coming to Texas is just .222. But it sure seemed like most of his hits last year happened in a big moment, didn't it? And his bat got better as last season progressed, ending up with a .245 average, nine homers and 26 RBIs in 54 games.

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Jon Daniels: Garza trade could 'haunt me'

March, 24, 2014
3/24/14
2:05
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Like most general managers, Jon Daniels has made some deals he wishes he hadn't made. Sure, he completed his share of blockbusters that helped the Texas Rangers vault into contention a few years back (the Mark Teixeira and Cliff Lee deals lead the list). But he also had some swings and misses (Adrian Gonzalez might be the biggest).

In July 2013, Daniels knew the Rangers needed some pitching help to bolster the rotation down the stretch, and he acquired Matt Garza from the Cubs, trading away four prospects. So what does Daniels think of that deal now?

Matt Garza
AP Photo/Andrew A. NellesIn 13 starts for the Rangers, Matt Garza was 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA in 84 1/3 innings.
"I thought way too short-term with the Garza deal last year," Daniels told Zach Buchanan of the Arizona Republic. "That one's got a chance to haunt us and haunt me."

To land Garza, Daniels dealt third baseman Mike Olt, right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards, right-handed starter Justin Grimm and right-handed pitcher Neil Ramirez, who was the player to be named later.

As expected, Garza became a free agent after the season and signed with the Brewers.

Garza had pitched well in Chicago, and the Rangers were desperate for pitching help to make a push. But the same Garza never showed up in Texas. In 13 starts in a Rangers uniform, Garza was 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA in 84 1/3 innings, and Texas didn’t make the postseason, losing to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 163, the one-game playoff to determine a wild-card postseason spot.

Olt is competing for the starting third-base job with the Cubs this spring. Edwards had a terrific 2013, split between the Rangers and Cubs, and continues to progress toward the big leagues. Add in Grimm and Ramirez, and the Cubs got a nice foursome of prospects for Garza.

That's why Daniels says it could haunt him.

Now is not time to promote Rougned Odor

March, 24, 2014
3/24/14
11:49
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It didn't take long, after the Texas Rangers announced that Jurickson Profar would miss 10 to 12 weeks with a torn muscle in his shoulder for the tweets to come in asking about promoting Rougned Odor to the big leagues.

Odor has had a solid spring. He's hitting .294 (5-for-17) and has played well at second base. He's another one of the club's prospects that scouts really like and believe has a bright future.

Rougned Odor
AP Photo/Darron CummingsRougned Odor has had a solid spring, but he needs more time to develop.
But is that future now?

No. Not yet, anyway. And it's a feeling the Rangers share as general manager Jon Daniels told reporters in Arizona today that Odor will stay in the minors.

I know it's tempting to put the 20-year-old in the lineup while Profar is out and see what he can do, especially with some internal options that aren't overwhelming. But this would clearly be a case of rushing things.

Odor has a total of 30 games played in Double-A Frisco. He hit .306 in those games, but it was a small sample against better pitching. Odor must prove he can handle it for a little while longer before he moves up to Triple-A or makes the Rangers think about promoting him to the big leagues. The 20-year-old has just a total of 296 minor league games in rookie ball, Class A and Double-A. He needs a little more seasoning.

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The alternatives, right now, aren't great. There's no doubt the club is looking at every external option, but this late in camp, that's going to be a reserve infielder from another team that wasn't quite able to make their roster. That's just the way it goes.

Internally, Josh Wilson, Kensuke Tanaka and Adam Rosales will get looks. Wilson is a right-handed hitter whom Washington likes for his defense. Wilson is 12-for-46 (.261) in 21 Cactus League games. Tanaka, a left-handed hitter, was sent to minor league camp recently, but is back on the big league side and starting at second base today. He's 32 years old and with limited big league experience. At this point, two of the three internal candidates could make the roster if the Rangers don't find someone externally.

The easy, knee-jerk would be to promote Odor with a lack of solid options available. But it's too soon to do that. We'll see Odor in Arlington in the near future -- just not on Opening Day.

Rangers Fantasy Countdown: No. 2

March, 19, 2014
3/19/14
7:45
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Our fantasy countdown marches on with ESPN.com's Eric Karabell and Tristan H. Cockcroft sharing their top-5 Texas Rangers players in terms of fantasy value for the 2014 season. The two disagreed on No. 5 (Cockcroft had Elvis Andrus and Karabell picked Shin-Soo Choo), but agreed on Nos. 3-4 (Yu Darvish and Alex Rios) and they are on the same page for No. 2.

No. 2: Prince Fielder

The first baseman is with a new team for the 2014 season and gets a chance to hit in front of Adrian Beltre, which certainly isn't a bad thing. Globe Life Park should be a good place for him and Fielder seems comfortable already with the Rangers and his new teammates.

Does all of it set up for a big year? Karabell and Cockcroft think so.

Karabell's thoughts: "For years Fielder protected Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera in the batting order, but he appears locked in as the No. 3 hitter in Texas. Will it matter? Well, while Fielder hasn't been as awesome the past two seasons, fantasy owners pay for the durability and consistency. And it's always possible he returns to his 40-homer ways in a friendlier hitter's park."

Recommended round: Early second

Cockcroft's thoughts: "Coming off a disappointing year (by his standards) in Detroit, Fielder gets a golden bounce-back opportunity in a more hitter-friendly home ballpark and a lineup that has one of the best on-base men leading off (Shin-Soo Choo, who barely missed this list)."

Recommended round: Second

Too many things seem to be in Fielder's favor for him not to have a better season than he did in 2013. That should also translate into nice fantasy value for those who pick up the first baseman in upcoming drafts.

Roster moves: Padres claim Castellanos

March, 7, 2014
3/07/14
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Infielder Alex Castellanos was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres on Friday. Casetellanos was designated for assignment Wednesday to make room for free-agent left-handed starter Joe Saunders on the big league roster.

Other moves announced by the Rangers on Friday:

* RHP Matt West has been optioned to High-A Myrtle Beach of the Carolina League.

* C Jose Felix, a non-roster invitee, has been assigned to the minor league camp.

* C Patrick Cantwell has been added as a non-roster invitee from the minor league camp. Cantwell will wear No. 58.

With the moves, the Rangers have 59 players remaining in camp, including pitchers Derek Holland and Joseph Ortiz, who are both on the 60-day DL.

Some pitching questions still need answers

March, 5, 2014
3/05/14
9:50
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As the Texas Rangers enter the second full week of Cactus League games, they still have questions to answer about the rotation -- and the bullpen -- and how everything will shake out when the season starts. Here's my take on how things stand, with an interesting three weeks to go:

Matt Harrison
Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesMatt Harrison's tight back earlier in camp has put him behind the other starters.
* Matt Harrison's tight back earlier in camp has put him behind the other starters. The good news is that after a battery of tests, it appears it was nothing more than a bad mattress. But that soft bed means Harrison likely starts the season on the DL and that the Rangers will need yet another starter to fill out the rotation.

Harrison's tightness is also a reminder that after three surgeries last year, there are no guarantees for the left-handed pitcher.

* LHP Derek Holland continues to rehab and progress, but as of now, the timeline is still about midseason. Holland could be a nice boost at that point for the rotation, but that's assuming he's healthy and ready. That won't be known for a few months.

* RHP Neftali Feliz, who was the favorite to close coming into camp, hasn't wrapped his hands firmly around the job yet. The velocity that reports showed he had in winter ball haven't shown up on any radar guns in Arizona. Feliz doesn't seem concerned and says he's building up arm strength and focused on secondary pitches, but he doesn't look like the guy that the Rangers were so excited about when spring started.

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GM wants team's focus on field, not Kinsler

March, 4, 2014
3/04/14
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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels spoke to the media Tuesday in Arizona in response to the criticism of Ian Kinsler in today's ESPN The Magazine story.

Daniels did not want to get caught up in name-calling, something he said in ESPNDallas.com's story earlier today. But he does hope his team can use the comments -- Kinsler said he hopes the Rangers go 0-162 -- as motivation.

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"I hope our players are pissed about that. I do," said Daniels, acknowledging that Kinsler is a competitor. "I think we’ll find out what we’re made of, and how we go about our business and handle our business."

Daniels did attempt to clarify a few things from the story, namely Kinsler's assertion that Daniels' ego drove Nolan Ryan out of town.

"On the Nolan stuff, what he said there, and again I haven’t read it verbatim, but I get the gist of it," Daniels said. "That’s just not accurate. I’m not going to get into it any more than that, other than that it’s simply not accurate."

Daniels did explain what happened when the Prince Fielder-Kinsler trade happened and why he wasn't able to reach Kinsler sooner. He noted that on a conference call with reporters that night that the organization apologized that it couldn't reach Kinsler before word got out.

"I was actually on a flight at the time," Daniels said. "Dave and I had finalized the deal probably about an hour or two before the deal. But with the cash involvement, we needed the commissioner’s office’s approval. It was $30 million they were sending our way. And then, Prince had a no-trade, so he had to sign off on it. So we had to wait for everything.

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Wash: 'We won't go 0-162. Guaranteed.'

March, 4, 2014
3/04/14
10:47
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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington said the comments of former Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler won't impact his team.

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The skipper was asked about Kinsler's comments in an ESPN The Magazine article. Kinsler said in the story: "I hope they go 0-162. "I got friends, and I love my friends, but I hope they lose their ass."

Washington's response: "We won't go 0-162. Guaranteed."

The manager went on to add: "We've got to take this and deal with reality. We're not a bad team."

Washington said he talked to Kinsler shortly after the trade. And Kinsler mentions Washington in the article as someone he will miss.

"He was a big part of our championship run," Washington said.

Washington also defended general manager Jon Daniels, whom Kinsler calls a "sleazeball" in the ESPN The Magazine story.

“To me, Jon Daniels has been one of the best general managers in the game and everything that he’s ever done, he’s done it simply because it’s going to make our team better," said Washington, who was Daniels' first managerial hire as the GM in 2007. "That’s where his head is and that’s where his head has always been and it’s a shame when you get an opinion out there and people are going to take it as if it’s reality and run with it.”

Washington made it clear that the organization is on the same page.

“We are united here in Texas," Washington said. "We are united.”

Injuries: Colby Lewis to pitch one inning

March, 3, 2014
3/03/14
10:56
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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Unlike the rest of the starting pitchers, Colby Lewis will throw just one inning in his first Cactus League start today. Rangers manager Ron Washington said that's by design as the club slowly gets Lewis ready for the season following his hip surgery last year.

"We want Colby to be here all year," Washington said. "We'll ramp him up how feel he should be ramped up."

And that's cautiously. The Rangers don't want to take any chances with Lewis, who has been throwing well and feeling good this camp.

Other injury updates:

* RF Shin-Soo Choo is in the lineup today after dealing with what the club described as "spring training arm."

* SS Elvis Andrus (flexor tendinitis) is playing catch.

* LHP Matt Harrison (back) is scheduled to throw off a half-mound today.

* RHP Rafael Perez (hamstring strain) is expected to pitch an inning in Tuesday's Cactus League game.

* RHP Nick Tepesch (back) is scheduled to pitch two innings today.

* RHP Miles Mikolas (sore elbow) is progressing in throwing program
.
* RHP Shawn Tolleson (sore back) is progressing in throwing program.

Neftali Feliz not concerned about velocity

March, 2, 2014
3/02/14
6:21
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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- If Texas Rangers reliever Neftali Feliz came in as the favorite to win the closer's job, he hasn't done anything the first two weeks to end the discussion.

That's not to say that when March 31 comes, Feliz won't be the guy called upon to get the final three outs. But there's a long way between now and then Feliz hasn't seized the spot yet. It's still up for grabs.

Feliz didn't light up any radar guns Sunday as his fastball was clocked between 87 and 91 mph, perhaps even touching 92. But that's not close to the winter ball reports that had him in the mid-90s and Feliz himself saying he hit 97. But the former closer who is hoping to reclaim his job isn't worried. He's been in spring training many times and is convinced that he's ramping up and that his arm strength will improve.

His focus now is on his mechanics, specifically his arm slot.

"I'm working on getting my arm up and keeping the ball down," Feliz said after Sunday's performance. "That's what I need to do for my secondary pitches."

Feliz made his first appearance in Cactus League play Sunday and couldn't get his changeup down. He left two hanging and both were hit hard, including one for an opposite-field two-run homer by catcher Tyler Flowers in the sixth.

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Reaction: Robbie Ross focused on starting

March, 2, 2014
3/02/14
6:09
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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers left-handed pitcher Robbie Ross knows that making the transition from reliever to starter isn't necessarily an easy one. But Ross is only thinking about building up his arm and making sure his workout routine is set so that he can win a rotation job and pitch more innings this season. He knows other relievers-turned-starters have struggled at times to keep up with the workload.

"You're just trying to work as hard as you can to stay strong, try to do what the guys tell you to do and go out there and get all the workouts in you have to get in, eat right and do the things you have to do to maintain," Ross said. "I think it's more along the lines of trying to get strong. That's all you can do."

Ross gave up one run on two hits with a walk in his two innings of work in the Chicago White Sox's 9-7 win. He said he threw a few changeups and a curve ball as he tried to work those pitches in while he was out there.

"I feel good and I'm just making sure I get my work in," Ross said.

He admitted that he feels like with the injury to Derek Holland and the fact that there's a lot of camp left that he has a better chance at making the rotation than he did last year.

Lillibridge making impression: We talked about Michael Choice's good early spring showing Saturday and the other noticeable player this spring so far is Brent Lillibridge. He had two more singles Sunday and was solid in the infield. He's taking advantage of the opportunity, at least so far, as the Rangers figure out those final roster spots.

Scheppers pleased: Former setup man Tanner Scheppers said his back felt good and he looked comfortable, allowing one hit and one strikeout in two innings of work.

"Being at spring training, kind of felt rusty with everything and that was my first time throwing with J.P. (Arencibia), something I enjoyed and we were figuring out each other," Scheppers said. "But it was good. Just a little rusty."

Two-strike approach: It's something the Rangers did a decent job of last season, finishing tied for fifth in the AL with a .187 with two strikes in the count. On Sunday, they were particularly effective early. The club had four hits with two strikes in the first two innings, including two singles by Lillibridge. Prince Fielder (golfing one that was low and outside to right-center) and Adrian Beltre had the other two-strike singles.

Hit by pitch: Both Ross and Scheppers started their outings by hitting a batter. Ross hit Adam Eaton with a 2-1 fastball and Scheppers nailed Avisail Garcia with the first pitch he threw in the third inning (at 94 mph). Scheppers also hit Tyler Flowers. None of the three batters that were hit ended up scoring.

Top-4: The Nos. 1 through 4 hitters in the Rangers lineup enjoyed batting against Chicago White Sox starter Felipe Paulino. Jurickson Profar, Lillibridge, Fielder and Beltre were 8-for-8 with seven singles and a double. That group accounted for four RBIs and three runs scored in those innings.

Quick step: Adam Rosales doesn't like to waste any time. The No. 9 batter, playing shortstop for Elvis Andrus on Sunday, sprinted to first base after drawing a walk and then sprinted to second after a balk was called. Apparently, he likes to run fast whenever he can. Rosales also made a nice defensive play, sprinting in and making a good, off-balance throw to get Jose Abreu in the third.

Briefly: Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a 2-run homer in the seventh inning to break a 4-4 tie. ... Nick Castellanos made a nice play on a foul ball, eluding the tarp to make a catch in the eighth. ... The Rangers had a two-run lead in the ninth, but the White Sox scored five runs off Nate Adcock and Scott Richmond to get the win.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Adrian Beltre
BA HR RBI R
.324 19 77 79
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Beltre 19
RBIA. Beltre 77
RA. Beltre 79
OPSA. Beltre .879
WC. Lewis 10
ERAC. Lewis 5.18
SOY. Darvish 182