Rangers leave injury-plagued time in desert

Rangers leave injury-plagued time in desert

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers have left the desert and are hoping the injury cloud that has followed them since their arrival remains in Arizona.

It's hard to imagine a more turbulent six weeks than what they just experienced, what with two projected offensive players out for three months, the projected Opening Day starter headed for the disabled list and a pitching staff that was in a state of flux right to the end.

But that was Spring Training, now Opening Day arrives on Monday and this is still a team that has won 90-plus games over the past four seasons. A few injuries and some unanswered pitching questions have not quelled anybody's optimism about what the Rangers are capable of accomplishing.

The ultimate goal still remains in place going into Monday's season opener against the Phillies in Arlington.

"Our mission is the same as the last four years," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "Win the World Series. Some of the players have changed, but other than that, we have the same mindset."

"Win it all, that's our goal," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "There have been some good things that have happened to us here and some bad things, a lot of new guys and a lot of new faces. It's a new start for everybody. But if we stay healthy, we have a really good shot at going deep into post-season."

Staying healthy has been an elusive target for the Rangers but the top of their lineup is intact for Opening Day with Shin-Soo Choo leading off, followed by Andrus, Prince Fielder, Beltre, Alex Rios and Mitch Moreland. Catcher and second base remain a mystery with the loss of Geovany Soto and Jurickson Profar for 10 to 12 weeks, but there is still hope J.P. Arencibia can figure some things out at the plate and add some power to the bottom of the order. If the still-to-be identified second basemen can play defense, then Leonys Martin adds a potential second leadoff hitter at the bottom of the order and the offense should score enough runs if the pitching is there.

The rotation was an on-going drama even before the Rangers showed up in the desert, going back to when Derek Holland fell on the stairs and tore the cartilage in his left knee. That left the Rangers scrambling going into Spring Training, as they added Tommy Hanson just before reporting day and Joe Saunders two weeks into camp.

Yu Darvish's stiff neck at the end of the spring added to the drama, but they still expect him to eventually lead a rotation that includes four intriguing young arms in Martin Perez, Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross and Nick Martinez as well as Saunders.

The Rangers also know that the Opening Day rotation may only be a temporary arrangement if Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison can overcome their past problems and be options at some point in April.

"I feel good about our pitching," general manager Jon Daniels said. "There are some question marks but I think they will be answered in a positive way."

The bullpen has taken some hits with Scheppers and Ross going to the rotation and Neftali Feliz failing to make the team. But Joakim Soria had a terrific spring as did Jason Frasor and Neal Cotts. The Rangers also decided to put Alexi Ogando back in the bullpen, which gives them another power arm for late in the game.

"We definitely have the talent to win a lot of games," Fielder said. "But we still have to go out and get it done."

The Rangers had a rough spring with all the injuries but there were some good moments worth reviewing. Infielder Kevin Kouzmanoff had a terrific spring and positioned himself to be in the Major Leagues for the first time since 2011. Arlington native Michael Choice earned a spot as a fourth outfielder with the promise of a bigger role in the future. Ross and Scheppers overwhelmed the rotation competition and Soria showed there is life after Tommy John surgery even if Feliz hasn't found it yet.

Darvish was enjoying a good spring before his neck problem, but this should be just a minor setback. The rotation will remain an on-going story long after Opening Day, but it's usually that way every season and the Rangers will have options develop as the season progresses.

It was a Spring Training like the Rangers have never experienced before. But that hasn't changed the way the Rangers view the upcoming season.

"We feel confident we are going to be competitive and win some ballgames," manager Ron Washington said.

When the Rangers take the field on Monday against the Phillies, they believe it is the first step on the way back to the World Series.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.