Tejeda honored to start home opener

Tejeda starts Rangers' home opener

Rangers manager Ron Washington isn't sure what Robinson Tejeda has been told in the past.

All he knows is what he tells Tejeda every time he has the chance to talk to him.

"He's a very confident kid," Washington said. "Every opportunity I get I just try to tell him he could be a great pitcher if he throws the ball in the strike zone. I'm constantly telling him that."

It's unlikely that Washington is the first to impart those words of wisdom on Tejeda. It has probably come up in other conversations with other managers in other years. Sometimes it clicks and sometimes it doesn't.

But everything clicked for Tejeda in the final two months of last season when he went 4-2 with a 2.32 ERA in his last nine starts. For two months he was the Rangers' best pitcher and even their September Player of the Month.

Now he is their starting pitcher for the home opener against the Boston Red Sox on Friday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. A sellout crowd is expected to be on hand and Cowboys Hall of Famer Michael Irvin is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

"This means a lot to me," Tejeda said. "This is like a great opportunity for me. It's a dream for me to be the starter at the home opener. I'm really excited about it."

The Rangers return home after losing the opening series to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and are counting on a sellout crowd to help get them going again.

"I expect all of us to feed off the energy of playing at home," Washington said.

Most of all, the Rangers would like to feed off a well-pitched game, the kind that Tejeda delivered down the stretch last year. Late-season performances can fool, but three of those victories came over the Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics and the Angels, three teams that were in the playoff race right down to the end.

"I'm just expecting him to throw the ball over the plate," Washington said. "Let his good stuff work in the strike zone. I keep telling him just throw strikes with what he has."

What he has is a 97-mph fastball that can overpower Major League hitters. He spent Spring Training working to improve his slider and changeup so he can have a complete repertoire as a starting pitcher.

He worked on other things such as holding runners on base and there were some rough moments in the spring. But Tejeda threw five shutout innings in his last start against the Brewers on Saturday, allowing him to go into the season on a high note.

"I had been working on everything," Tejeda said. "But on Saturday it all just came together and worked. Now it just comes down to believing in myself and helping this team win."

Pitching matchup
Tex: RHP Robinson Tejeda (5-5, 4.28 ERA in 2006)
Tejeda makes his first start of the season after going 4-2 with a 2.32 ERA in his final nine starts of the 2006 season. His 4.28 ERA was the lowest for any Rangers starter with at least 14 starts. He was 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA in five starts at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. That's the ninth highest in one season in the ballpark for a pitcher with at least five starts.

BOS: RHP Tim Wakefield (7-11, 4.63 ERA in 2006)
Wakefield, the last of the great knuckleballers, was 0-1 with a 7.59 ERA in two games against the Rangers last year and is 7-13 with a 6.08 ERA in his career. He had a 2-1 record with a 1.55 ERA in four day game starts last year. Opponents hit .193 with runners in scoring position off him. In his 11 losses last year, the Red Sox scored a total of six runs while he was in the game.

Player to watch
Frank Catalanotto is 15-for-45 with three home runs in his career against Wakefield. Catalanotto has just 70 career home runs and Wakefield is the only pitcher he has more than two against.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• KDFW/Ch. 4

On radio
• 1080 KRLD AM, 1270 KFLC AM (Español)

Up next
• Saturday: Red Sox (Julian Tavarez, 5-4, 4.47 in 2006) at Rangers (Kevin Millwood, 0-1, 5.40), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Red Sox (Curt Schilling, 0-1, 11.25) at Rangers (Vicente Padilla, 0-1, 11.57), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Monday: Devil Rays (Edwin Jackson, 0-0, 5.45) at Rangers (Brandon McCarthy 0-1, 4.50), 7:05 p.m. PT

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.