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Rangers limp out of spring training

The SportsXchange

The Texas Rangers entered spring training with plenty of optimism following an offseason in which they made a pair of major acquisitions.

However, they will limp out of camp at Surprise, Ariz., with a lot less enthusiasm following a difficult spring that was marked by injuries and ineffective performances.

The good news for the Rangers is that their two biggest additions, first baseman Prince Fielder and left fielder Shin-Soo Choo, got through the spring relatively unscathed. Fielder appears ready to add thump from the No 3 spot in the batting order after being acquired from the Detroit Tigers in a trade for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Choo will provide a spark from the leadoff spot after signing a seven-year, $130 million contract as a free agent in December.

After failing to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2009 last year when they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in a tiebreaker for the second American League wild card, the Rangers are hopeful Fielder and Choo can get them back to the playoffs in 2014.

However, the duo will have to carry a fair share of the load as the Rangers will be without catcher Geovany Soto and second baseman Jurickson Profar until possibly the end of June. Profar was diagnosed with a muscle tear in his right shoulder March 23 and, later that day, Soto tore cartilage in his left knee, an injury that will require arthroscopic surgery.

Though neither Soto nor Profar were expected to be key components of the Rangers' offense, their absence will test the organization's depth.

The Rangers' options at second base are a trio of journeymen in Adam Rosales, Kensuke Tanaka and Josh Wilson. Though the organization's top prospect, Rougned Odor, is a second baseman, general manager Jon Daniels says he will resist the temptation to push the 20-year-old with just 30 games of experience at the Double-A level to the major leagues.

J.P. Arencibia and Robinson Chirinos figure to see time behind the plate. While Arencibia hit 21 home runs in 138 games for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, he struck out 148 times, drew just 18 walks and had a .194 batting average and .227 on-base percentage. Though Chirinos has impressed this spring, the 29-year-old has played just 33 major league games.

The Rangers also found out during the second week of camp that left-hander Matt Harrison won't be ready to pitch in the major leagues until at least late April after he was sidelined by lower back stiffness. Harrison had a pair of back surgeries last season when he was limited to two starts after winning 18 games in 2012.

That came on the heels of lefty Derek Holland injuring his left knee so severely during a fall at home in January that he required microfracture surgery. Holland is hopeful of returning by mid-June, though the timetable set at the time of the surgery was the All-Star break.

The Rangers signed left-hander Joe Saunders and right-hander Tommy Hanson to minor league contracts as free agent in hopes they could fill the rotation voids. However, neither was a lock to make the roster going into the finals days of spring training after pitching poorly for much of the spring.

On top of all that bad news, ace right-hander Yu Darvish's availability to start the opener against the Philadelphia Phillies on March 31 is in question because of a stiff neck.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP Yu Darvish, who has been slowed by a stiff neck, played catch March 24 but it was unclear when he would be able to throw off a mound. He is scheduled to start the opener March 31 against the Philadelphia Phillies but that is now considered questionable. Darvish finished runner-up to Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer in the American League Cy Young Award voting last season when he went 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA in 32 starts while topping the league with 277 strikeouts.

--C Geovany Soto will have surgery on his right knee to repair torn meniscus cartilage and will be out until at least mid-June. He felt pain while squatting behind the plate during a March 23 game and an MRI revealed the damage. Soto was expected to be the starting catcher after being the backup last season to A.J. Pierzynski, who signed with the Boston Red Sox as a free agent in the offseason. In 2013, Soto hit .245 with nine home runs in 54 games. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2006 while playing for the Chicago Cubs.

--2B Jurickson Profar tore a muscle in his right shoulder while turning a double play in a March 22 game and will begin the season on the disabled list. While surgery is not required, it is expected that the muscle will need 10-12 weeks to heal, which could keep Profar out through the end of June. The injury is unrelated to him being unable to throw at the start of spring training because of soreness in the shoulder. Profar was used as a utility player last season as a rookie and batted .234 and six home runs in 86 games after coming into the year rated as the top prospect in baseball by various sources.

--RHP Tanner Scheppers will begin the season in the starting rotation after making 76 relief appearances for the Rangers last season. Scheppers has started just 12 times in 210 professional games all 115 major league appearances have been out of the bullpen. His last start came in 2011 for Triple-A Round Rock. Scheppers had an outstanding 1.88 ERA in 2013 and also registered his first big-league save.

--RHP Joakim Soria will begin the season as the closer by virtue of beating out RHP Neftali Feliz in their spring training competition. After sitting out the 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, Soria made 26 relief appearances with the Rangers last year and posted a 3.80 ERA. He had 160 saves for the Kansas City Royals from 2007-11.

--RHP Alexi Ogando will begin the season as the Rangers' primary set-up reliever after being looked at as a starter during Cactus League play. Ogando made 48 starts and 108 relief appearances during his four-year career. Last season, he was 7-4 with a 3.11 ERA in 23 games, including 18 starts.

--LHP Derek Holland is tentatively scheduled to throw off a mound April 2 for the first time since undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee in January. The original timetable following the surgery was for Holland to return at the All-Star break but is so far ahead of the schedule in his rehab that he might be able to join the Rangers' rotation in early June.

--OF Engel Beltre will begin the season on the disabled list with a fractured tibia bone in his right leg. The Rangers have no timetable for when Beltre might return and are unsure exactly how he was injured, though they believe it might be traced back to being hit by a pitch while playing winter ball in his native Dominican Republic. He was slated to be the fourth outfielder this season. The 24-year-old made his major league debut last season and hit .250 in 22 games. He is out of minor league options, meaning the Rangers would have to pass him through waivers if they tried to send him down after what figures to be a lengthy injury rehabilitation stint in the minors.

--OF Michael Choice is expected to begin the season as the fourth outfielder now that OF Engel Beltre will start off on the disabled list with a fractured tibia bone in his right leg. The Rangers acquired Choice, a rookie, from Oakland, in an offseason trade. He made his major league debut with the Athletics last season and hit .278 in nine games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We lost two everyday players and there's no way to sugarcoat that. It is what it is. We'll look toward our depth and see where we go from here," -- Rangers GM Jon Daniels after learning in the span of 24 hours that C Geovany Soto and 2B Jurickson Profar could be out until the end of June because of injuries.

ROSTER REPORT

The Rangers had a splashy offseason as they traded with the Detroit Tigers for first baseman Prince Fielder and signed left fielder Shin-Soo Choo as a free agent. Fielder should add power and Choo on-base skills to the offense. However, the Rangers will begin the season with at least four key players on the disabled list in left-handers Matt Harrison and Derek Holland, catcher Geovany Soto and second baseman Jurickson Profar. While Harrison should be ready by the end of April, the Rangers will not have the other three players until sometime in June.

ROTATION:

1. RHP Yu Darvish

2. LHP Martin Perez

3. RHP Tommy Hanson

4. RHP Tanner Scheppers

5. LHP Joe Saunders

Darvish finished second in the AL Cy Young voting last season when he struck out 277 in 209 2/3 innings. Perez's performances are up and down but he is also just 22. Hanson struggled in moving from the NL to the AL following his trade from the Atlanta Braves to the Los Angeles Angels prior to last season.

Scheppers has a live arm but his lack of command might cause his undoing in converting to starter from reliever. Saunders provides innings pitched but little else.

BULLPEN:

RHP Joakim Soria (closer)

RHP Alexi Ogando

LHP Neal Cotts

RHP Neftali Feliz

LHP Robbie Ross

RHP Jason Fraser

LHP Michael Kirkman

Soria returns to closing for the first since 2011 following the second Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery of his career and a strong spring showing. Ogando can dominate when right, but health is always a concern. Cotts made a strong return to the major leagues last season after being away since 2009 because of injuries.

Feliz has yet to come all the way back from Tommy John surgery performed in 2012 and lost out to Soria in a spring battle to be the closer. Ross has upside at 24 and could wind up as a starter in the long term. Frasor is steady in middle relief and has found a home in Texas. Kirkman missed time last year at midseason while being treated for skin cancer then struggled with his control upon his return.

LINEUP:

1. LF Shin-Soo Choo

2. SS Elvis Andrus

3. 1B Prince Fielder

4. 3B Adrian Beltre

5. RF Alex Rios

6. DH Mitch Moreland

7. CF Leonys Martin

8. 2B Kensuke Tanaka

9. C J.P. Arencibia

The Rangers are spending $130 million on Choo and his elite on-base skills in order to kick start their offense. Andrus needs to get on base more consistently to take advantage of his outstanding speed. Fielder looks to rebound in a hitter friendly ballpark after getting booed out of Detroit following a dismal postseason last fall.

Beltre belted at least 30 homers in four straight seasons, hits for average and plays stellar defense. Rios was rejuvenated after coming to Texas from the Chicago White Sox last August in a trade. Morleand has some pop but does not hit for average and lacks plate discipline.

Martin is a question mark as his performance slipped in the second half last year as a rookie. Tanaka, a veteran from Japan, hit .329 for San Francisco's Triple-A Fresno farm club last season. Arencibia is an all-or-nothing hitter who can hit home runs but also strikes out at an alarming rate.

RESERVES:

C Robinson Chirinos

3B/1B Kevin Kouzmanoff

INF Adam Rosales

OF Michael Choice

Chirinos has become a favorite of manager Ron Washington this spring and could take playing time away from Arencibia. Kouzmanoff is on the verge of returning to the major leagues after spending the two past seasons in the minors. Rosales will likely start at second base against left-handers in place of Tanaka. The Rangers would prefer that Choice play every day at Triple-A Round Rock but need him on the major league club because of an injury to fourth outfielder Engel Beltre.

MEDICAL WATCH:

--2B Jurickson Profar (torn right shoulder muscle) was injured March 22. He likely is out until June.

--C Geovany Soto (torn meniscus in right knee) left the March 23 game and is scheduled to undergoing surgery. He will be out until June.

--RHP Yu Darvish (stiff neck) missed a scheduled March 21 start. He is questionable for his scheduled Opening Day start March 31 against Philadelphia.

--LHP Matt Harrison (stiff back) pitched one scoreless relief inning March 11 in his first game action of the spring, then made his first start March 17. He will begin the season on the disabled list. He had a herniated disc repaired in April 2013. He missed the remainder of the season and subsequently had a rib surgically removed in September 2013 in an effort to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome.

--LHP Derek Holland (microfracture left knee surgery in January 2014) went on the 60-day disabled list March 3. He is six weeks ahead in his recovery and expects to be ready to join the major league rotation by early June. He is tentatively scheduled to throw off a mound April 2 for the first time since being injured.

--OF Engel Beltre (fractured tibia in right leg) will begin the season on the disabled list. The Rangers have no timetable for when Beltre will return and are unsure exactly how he was injured, though they believe it might be traced back to being hit by a pitch while playing winter ball in his native Dominican Republic.

--LHP Joseph Ortiz (broken left foot) went on the 60-day disabled list Feb. 14. He will be out until at least late May.
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