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W2W4: Pitching debuts vs. Rays

4/4/2014

The Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays are set to begin a three-game series tonight. A few things to keep an eye on over the weekend (and by the way, Chris Girandola is in Tampa for us. You can follow him on Twitter @crgrand for his coverage.):

* Yu Darvish starts for the first time in 2014 on Sunday. After a stiff neck kept him from starting on Opening Day, Darvish is ready to go after going through a few bullpen sessions to get his arm strength and command where he wants it. In two career starts at Tropicana Field, Darvish is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA.

* Which Joe Saunders will the Rangers see? Saunders had a rough spring after being signed by the Rangers for pitching depth. But he's got a track record of eating innings and keeping his team in games. The question is will his bad spring carry over into tonight's game, or was that simply a tuneup for the season?

* Nick Martinez makes his unlikely big league debut Saturday. The 23-year-old was expecting to start the season in Double-A Frisco, where he finished 2013. Instead, with all of the injuries, he's making his debut in Tampa. Martinez admits he's excited, but is stressing that he stay even-keeled and worry about executing pitches, rather than the size of the stadium or the moment.

* It's possible Saunders and Martinez are pitching to determine which one stays the next time through the rotation. With Darvish healthy and starting Sunday, the club will have to move someone out of the five-man rotation. Martinez has options, but it could come down to which guy performs better. Stay tuned.

* Early runs. The Rangers haven't had them so far yet this season. In fact, they fell behind the Phillies early in all three games but managed two ninth-inning comebacks. Texas was last in first-inning runs in 2013. They'd like to start a trend of getting on the board earlier.

* Prince Fielder. He had a slow start to the season in the first series and has not historically hit well at Tropicana Field (7-for-34 in his career). But the slugger did have a double in the final game of the series and he took a key walk Tuesday that allowed Adrian Beltre to come up and deliver in a critical situation.

* Do the platoons continue? Will manager Ron Washington keep going back and forth at second base (with Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy) and at catcher (with J.P. Arencibia and Robinson Chirinos) or will he start to settle more on one guy at each spot?

* Michael Choice. The right-handed hitter is bound to get a chance against David Price, even after Mitch Moreland's two-hit performance Wednesday, right? Assuming Choice is in there, he's worth keeping an eye on. He's likely to get most of his at-bats against lefties.