Manager Ron Washington is the face of the Rangers franchise. He is their leader on the field, and the one who is willing to be held accountable for his team every single day -- and before and after every game during a grueling 162-game season.
There is nobody in a Major League franchise whose job performance is examined and analyzed on a daily basis more than the manager, and everybody has an opinion.
The manager is always the center of the storm. Washington, who enters his fourth year after leading the Rangers to 87 wins in 2009, found himself in a storm of greater intensity than ever during Spring Training when it came out that he tested positive for cocaine during the 2009 season.
Washington endured the scrutiny and tried to answer every question from all quarters. He sat down at the end of Spring Training with MLB.com to answer a few more.
MLB.com: This Spring Training has been especially difficult for you. How have you handled it personally?
Washington: I have handled it the same way I've always handled it. There are always things in life you have to deal with. When things are hard to deal with, you deal with it honestly. You don't shy away from it. That doesn't accomplish anything.
MLB.com: How did you think the ballclub and your players have reacted to the situation?
Washington: They've reacted excellently. I certainly haven't felt any residual effects. They continue to stay focused. They know what's ahead of us. They're excited to get started. They know good things are ahead of them.
MLB.com: There is a perception that your personal situation has made your job situation more vulnerable. Do you think that's the case?
Washington: I know what I did. I know it was a mistake. The expectations are the expectations. I know my focus is back and up to where it belongs: getting these guys prepared to play. That's not going to change. We need to win ballgames. If we don't win ballgames, the situation will be the same. I'm not putting any more credence on that than there already was.
MLB.com: Are the expectations on this team too high?
Washington: No. What I feel is we are supposed to win. We put ourselves in a position last year where we showed we can play good baseball. That's our intention, to go out and play good baseball. I don't think the outside expectations are greater than the inside expectations. We expect to play good baseball and good baseball results in wins.
MLB.com: Has anything happened this spring that has shaken your confidence in your team's ability to win?
Washington: No. Nothing. I think the guys we are depending on are on schedule. They've showed improvement every day. We're very confident and I think we're a very solid unit. There is nothing that has shaken my confidence.
SHAPING UP THE SCHEDULE
The Rangers believe they can play with anybody in the American League. They will get that test in April with three-game series with the Mariners, Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers. The Rangers go to Boston and New York. The Rangers have lost 40 of their last 56 games in Boston while they are 19-20 over the past nine years in the Bronx.
May could be better when they play 14 of 27 at home. Only 10 of those 27 games are against a team that had a winning record in 2009. The Rangers are 39-19 in May over the past two years while they are 20-28 in April.
Interleague Play Cubs, May 21-23; at Milwaukee, June 11-13; at Florida, June 15-17; at Houston June 28-20; Pirates June 22-24; Houston June 25-27.
Key home dates:
May 17-18 It's only a two-game series but the Angels are in town for the first meeting between the two teams.
July 2-11 The Rangers' longest homestand of the season features the White Sox, Indians and Orioles, the last 10 games leading up to the All-Star break. The Fourth of July is a Sunday night game.
Aug. 10-15 Yankees arrive for a two-game series and then the Red Sox are at the Ballpark in Arlington for their only appearance there this season.
MLB.com: How do you think the fans will react to you on Opening Day?
Washington: I hope they react and understand that I made a great mistake. The Ron Washington they know is the same Ron Washington. I won't force them to feel what they feel. They have to feel what's in their hearts, the same way I would expect from anybody.
I do beg for the opportunity to prove that I am worthy. I've never lost that worthiness. Spring Training may be different than going into the regular season, but I've got tons of support from people around the country. The fans I've run into have been very supportive. I'm asking Rangers fans to be very supportive, not only of me, but the team and the organization, because it's about them.
MLB.com: What will it take to get this team to the next level?
Washington: Just continue the consistency ... at the pitching level, the defensive level, at the baserunning level and consistency at the offensive level. That's all. Just continued consistency.
MLB.com: So you think winning will cure everything?
Washington: That's our goal, and if we win, everybody is happy. That's our purpose. My speech to the team is we're as good as anybody. Now let's go out and play.
MLB.com: This is almost a completely new rotation with great potential and deep question marks. How do you see it succeeding?
Washington: I see them succeeding very well. I see the expectations of those guys, I see them feeding off each other, I see each one bringing competitive spirit. Each one of those guys believe in themselves and their teammates. Each one understands pitching to contact, and that will make our defense better. I am very pleased with that.
MLB.com: Will the Rangers' offense come back?
Washington: There's no doubt. The key for me is seeing Josh Hamilton's patience at the plate this spring, Vladimir Guerrero's presence in the lineup, Michael Young's consistency in being an All-Star every year, Elvis Andrus and Julio Borbon growing, Nelson Cruz getting better, David Murphy being the professional that he is, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden growing and Chris Davis making the adjustments he needs to make.
We need Ian Kinsler getting back in the lineup. But the lineup is very formidable. We have some different weapons and we have presence. We will have our days because we're still big swingers. But the inconsistency won't be there like last year.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.