Darvish ready to 'pitch at a higher level'

Darvish ready to 'pitch at a higher level'

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers manager Jeff Banister met with his pitchers before the first official workout on Wednesday and gave them the annual obvious reminder that you can't win a job on the first day.

Yu Darvish heeded the manager's words.

Darvish was one of 16 pitchers throwing off a mound on Wednesday and dialed it down to about 80 percent in his first official bullpen session of the spring.

"Today was 80 percent," Darvish said. "Last year at this time it was 30 percent. Last year I was on rehab. This year I'm ready to pitch."

Last year, Darvish was trying to finish off his recovery from Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss the entire 2015 season. He didn't make his first 2016 start until May 28.

This year the big drama is if Darvish or Cole Hamels will be the Opening Day starter and Banister isn't ready to announce that yet. The Rangers want Darvish on the mound from the beginning to the end.

"Last year at this point I wasn't throwing the ball hard at all," Darvish said. "During the regular season, I was thinking about the elbow and worried about it a little bit. Now I don't have to worry. It's stress-free. Mentally, I'm more stress-free than last year."

Outlook: Darvish, SP, TEX

Darvish made 17 starts for the Rangers last season and was 7-5 with a 3.41 ERA. He had a 1.12 WHIP, opponents hit .214 off him and he struck out 11.84 batters per nine innings. Those aren't bad numbers for a pitcher relatively just removed from Tommy John surgery.

"At the end of last year, I was getting better command," Darvish said. "I want to keep that going. I want to pitch at a higher level than last year."

Rangers up front with Loney
The Rangers plan to announce the signing of free agent first baseman Mike Napoli on Thursday. Veteran first baseman James Loney knew that was a possibility when he agreed to a Minor League contract with the Rangers on Jan. 20.

"They told me before I signed they were still looking at other options at first base/DH," Loney said. "I still think this is the best opportunity for me."

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Beyond three outfield appearances, Loney has been strictly a first baseman during his 11-year career with the Dodgers, Red Sox, Rays and Mets. But Napoli is expected to be the Rangers everyday first baseman.

Loney provides insurance at the position, but could still fill a role as a backup first baseman and left-handed-hitting designated hitter. Much will depend on what the Rangers see from Josh Hamilton.

Rangers beat
• Veteran reliever Edwin Jackson was in camp with the Rangers on Wednesday throwing a bullpen session. He is still looking for a job and the Rangers were giving him a tryout. He was 5-7 with a 5.89 ERA in 13 starts and eight relief appearances for the Marlins and Padres last season.

• The Rangers have 32 pitchers in camp, including left-hander Adam Loewen. He was signed to a Minor League contract earlier this week and arrived on Wednesday. Reliever Eddie Gamboa, acquired from the Rays on Tuesday, will report later this week and make it 33 pitchers in camp.

• Right-handed starter Tyson Ross, who is trying to finish off his recovery from thoracic outlet syndrome, is still limited to flat-ground throwing. The Rangers are setting his schedule out only a few days at a time to keep him from looking too far ahead.

Jurickson Profar, who is playing for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, worked out on Wednesday. Adrian Beltre, who is playing for the Dominican Republic, has not yet arrived.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.