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Richard Justice

Ryan, Rangers ready for interesting race

Justice: Ryan, Rangers set for interesting race

Ryan, Rangers ready for interesting race
When the Rangers rolled into Spring Training a year ago, Nolan Ryan looked long and hard for a World Series hangover. Instead, he found exactly the opposite.

"I saw a determination to get back to the World Series," Ryan said. "They wanted to prove they were worthy of being champions. From start to finish, we had that attitude. I hope to see the same attitude and approach to work this spring."

Ryan believes his team is better than the one that won a second straight American League championship. That improvement should begin with continued progress by young starters Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, as well as newly added Yu Darvish having a chance to be a 200-inning workhorse.

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"I watched a lot of video of him, and think he has the most upside of any player to come out of the Japanese League," Ryan said. "He's 6-5 and what you're looking for in terms of a pitcher's dimensions. He's intelligent. He understands more English than you realize. He came over, and we became very comfortable with him. We feel he'll be able to be a mainstay of our rotation for a long time, and he's still in the developmental stage of his career."

The Rangers lost their own 200-inning ace, C.J. Wilson, to the Angels, but Ryan still likes his pitching. He also appreciates the job general manager Jon Daniels has done in constructing both a terrific Major League team and a first-rate Minor League system.

It was that Minor League system that allowed the Rangers to make a Trade Deadline deal for Cliff Lee in 2010 and Mike Adams in 2011. Best of all, there appears to be another wave of pitching talent about to push for Major League jobs.

For a franchise that won one playoff game in its first 38 years of existence, these last two seasons have been a fun, wild ride. It seems likely to continue, in part, because any discussion of baseball's best-run franchises would include the Rangers.

Ryan gave the Rangers the kind of credibility they'd never had the moment he took over as team president in November 2008. By that time, Daniels had rebuilt the baseball operation to the extent it was positioned for long-term success.

"It has been very exciting," Ryan said. "It's fun to watch kids' development, and us be able to accomplish what we have. We feel we're positioned well. We're young. We have control of a lot of our core players for several more years. We're really focused on building from within. We've put a lot of emphasis on our development system, and we have more young kids coming on."

Still, the Rangers will be dealing with something that has nothing to do with pitching depth or manager Ron Washington's gift of getting the most from his roster.

The Rangers didn't just lose the 2011 World Series, they lost it in the most excruciating way possible. Twice, they were one strike away from winning what should have been a clinching Game 6. Twice, they couldn't finish the deal, and then lost Game 7, as well.

"It was so disappointing," Ryan said. "I think we were just in shock after Game 6, and it continued into Game 7."

I wondered how someone as competitive as Ryan has dealt with the Game 6 loss.

"Well, I didn't sleep much," he said.

Ryan began looking ahead almost immediately. The Rangers returned home from St. Louis at around 3 a.m., and Ryan called a staff meeting for 1 that afternoon.

"I didn't want to ask the coaches to hang around Arlington," Ryan said. "So we started the process of getting ready for next year. That was hard to do, but we had to put it behind us. That's easier said than done. As long as I've been in baseball, you just hope it affects them in a positive way."

Ryan acknowledges the Angels had a great offseason, with the additions of Albert Pujols and Wilson, but he concedes nothing.

"I really think the Angels have improved themselves," Ryan said. "You don't sign a player the magnitude of Albert Pujols, and him not have an impact. I also think C.J. fits in their rotation. They're going to be tough, no doubt. But we feel we're better, too. It should make for an interesting season."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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