This year, the Texas Rangers have something new to consider when picking an Opening Day starter.
It's called a choice.
On just the second day of full workouts, manager Ron Washington acknowledged the obvious. Either 2012 team wins leader Matt Harrison or AL wild-card-game starter Yu Darvish will pitch against the Houston Astros in the March 31 opener. Because of a quirk in the schedule that gives the Rangers two off days in the first five days of the season, it is highly likely the Opening Day starter will also start the home opener against the Los Angeles Angels on April 5.
Matching up for the Angels series could play as important a role in determining the season-opening starter as anything else this spring.
"I think performance, experience and matchups will all play a part," Washington said. "We could go either way. It's a no-brainer that it is between those two guys."
What will take some figuring out is how the Rangers want to set the rotation. They could use a four-man rotation for the first nine days of the season and send the fifth starter to the minors for work.
If Harrison, a left-hander, starts the opener and the home opener, then the Rangers likely would have right-handers Alexi Ogando and Darvish to make the next two starts against Los Angeles. If Darvish starts both openers, the Rangers could follow him against the Angels with lefties Derek Holland and Harrison. The Angels' offense was pretty balanced last season, but the addition of left-handed-hitting Josh Hamilton to the mix might make it advantageous to send as many lefties to the mound as possible.
In recent seasons, the Rangers haven't had this kind of choice. Both Harrison (18-11) and Darvish (16-9) won more than 15 games in 2012. The Rangers haven't had a pair of returning 15-game winners since Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla returned for 2007 after winning 16 and 15, respectively, in 2006.
"As long as they let me pitch, I'm fine," Darvish said. "It doesn't really have significance for me, as long as I can pitch."