Health key to Rangers' improvement

Health key to Rangers' improvement

The Rangers know they have a large number of players with a history of recent injuries, and they know any chance of contending rests on keeping themselves healthy.

The subject has been talked about at great length in Spring Training, to the point where it has almost been engrained in their collective psyche.

As the Rangers get ready to open the season against the Mariners on Monday, two questions are worth raising.

First of all, it's natural to wonder just what are the odds of all these key players making it through a 162-game season without a number of them going down at an inopportune time.

"It's so hard to quantify health risk," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "That's going to be our biggest single goal this year. It's almost a given that every year and every team is going to have some issues, expected and unexpected. It all depends on how we deal with it."

The second question is what happens if the Rangers do avoid the massive number of injuries that torpedoed their 2007 season. Just exactly how good is this team when injuries are not a problem? Throughout the roster, there are players who have been successful at the big league level. They just haven't done it lately.

"We have guys who are capable of having a big year and we have guys who can shoulder a lot of responsibility," shortstop Michael Young said. "It's up to everyone to find a way to be successful. If you've had success before in the Major Leagues, you know what it takes. It's a matter of getting it done."

The Rangers talk about going with young players, and Daniels said one of the key factors to the season is their continued development. But Texas also made a number of moves designed to put at least a competitive team on the field.

Jason Jennings, coming back from flexor tendon surgery, joins a rotation that already includes Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla and Kason Gabbard. Rookie Luis Mendoza steps in for Brandon McCarthy, who will start the season on the disabled list with severe elbow inflammation.

Kazuo Fukumori (elbow surgery) and Eddie Guardado (Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery) were added to a bullpen led by closer C.J. Wilson and setup reliever Joaquin Benoit, who was the Rangers Pitcher of the Year in 2007.

Ben Broussard takes over at first base in an infield that includes Young, third baseman Hank Blalock and second baseman Ian Kinsler. Blalock missed over three months last year because of shoulder surgery.

The outfield was revamped. Josh Hamilton, who was on the disabled list twice last year, was acquired to play center field, and Milton Bradley, coming off major knee surgery, was signed to play right field. Bradley's rehabilitation is not finished and he'll start the season at designated hitter, while Marlon Byrd and rookie David Murphy flank Hamilton.

Designated hitter Frank Catalanotto and catcher Gerald Laird fill out the lineup card. Both had substandard offensive seasons in 2007. Many of their teammates did so as well, mainly because of physical problems. Still, there is talent here.

"I think we're going to surprise some people even though nobody is going to give us a chance," Catalanotto said. "From what I've seen in Spring Training, we're going to score a lot of runs, and I think there's going to be some surprises in the pitching staff. Our defense is going to be better than last year. We like being the team that nobody talks about."

There hasn't been much reason to talk about the Rangers of late. This is a franchise that has finished in last place seven of the last eight seasons since their last division title, and there are few if any who think this team can finish higher than a distant third place.

"I don't care what anybody else is thinking," Young said. "I like the fact that there are guys here who will have big years that nobody is expecting. Nobody is expecting Kinsler to be a star or that Josh will have a big year or Milton will have the kind of season he's capable of having.

"People can think what they want. I think we're going to sneak up on some people."

Pitching matchup
TEX: RHP Kevin Millwood (10-14, 5.16 ERA in 2007)
Millwood is making his third straight Opening Day start for the Rangers. He was the losing pitcher the last two times, going just five innings in both. He was 2-3 with a 5.21 ERA in six starts against the Mariners last year and 7-6 with a 4.23 ERA in 15 career games against them. Ichiro Suzuki is 21-for-48 against the righty.

SEA: LHP Erik Bedard (13-5, 3.16 ERA)
Bedard was acquired in a six-player deal with the Orioles in the offseason. He was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in two starts against the Rangers last year and 4-1 with a 2.50 ERA in six starts against them in his career. In 39 2/3 innings against Texas, he has struck out 45 while allowing just 35 hits. Bedard allowed 6.97 hits per nine innings last year, the lowest in the American League, while his 10.93 strikeouts per nine innings were the highest.

Tidbits
Ichiro has a career batting average of .341 against the Rangers, the second highest of any opponent with at least 500 at-bats against them. He is 10th all-time with 109 runs scored against Texas in 134 games.

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

On television
• Fox Sports Southwest

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

  Up next
• Tuesday: Rangers (Vicente Padilla, 6-10, 5.76) at Mariners (Felix Hernandez, 14-7, 3.92), 9:10 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: Rangers (Jason Jennings, 2-9, 6.45) at Mariners (Carlos Silva, 13-14, 4.19), 9:10 p.m. CT
• Thursday: Off-day

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