|Rangers go into spring with lots of questions|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 13 February 2008 00:25|
Without any blockbuster deals, general manager Jon Daniels added to the starting rotation, found a new veteran reliever and brought in players for first base, center field and left field.
Still, questions persist for second-year manager Ron Washington and a team that hasn't finished above third place in the AL West since winning its last division title in 1999. And many of the answers need to come from the additions.
- Will Jason Jennings, the 2002 NL Rookie of the Year, and 37-year-old Eddie Guardado, a two-time All-Star reliever, contribute on the mound after elbow problems?
- Can center fielder Josh Hamilton back up his breakout rookie season? After nearly derailing his career because of alcohol and drug abuse, the 1999 first overall pick finally made his major league debut last year in Cincinnati.
- Will Milton Bradley recover from knee surgery and be able to play right field?
e not just taking blind risks. These are calculated risks.''
While it will be a while before the Rangers know if those risks pay off, this is the time of renewed optimism and fresh hopes.
Rangers pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Surprise, Ariz., on Thursday, with their first workout the following day. The first full-squad workout is next week.
``I think we'll be a stronger club,'' starter Kevin Millwood said. ``We'll go as far as we pitch. That's no different from any other year.''
Millwood had a career-worst 5.16 ERA last season, and spent two stints on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
Now 33 and going into the third year of his five-year deal, Millwood increased his workouts in the offseason. He even added kickboxing to his routine.
``The older you get, the more you've got to do,'' Millwood said. ``I don't want to become a soft-tosser, a breaking ball guy. I want to keep pitching the way I've always pitched.''
Millwood isn't the only rotation returner who was hampered by injuries last season.
Vicente Padilla (triceps) and Brandon McCarthy (blister, stress fracture in shoulder) had extended DL stays. Kason Gabbard, a rookie left-hander who came from Boston in a trade for Eric Gagne, was 2-1 in eight starts before being shut down because of forearm tendinitis.
d the team's new president) pitch for the Rangers. Last season, Jennings was 2-9 with a career-worst 6.45 ERA in 19 games, missed three months and had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon.
Guardado is still coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery in September 2006. But he made 15 appearances for Cincinnati at the end of last season and didn't allow a run his last seven games.
While he would like to be a closer again, Guardado's primary role in Texas likely will be as a setup reliever and mentor for lefty C.J. Wilson, who became the closer (12 saves) after Gagne was traded.
Without Gagne and Akinori Otsuka, who was not tendered a contract after he missed the final 2 1/2 months of last season with a forearm problem, Guardado brings a needed veteran presence to the bullpen.
Texas also added right-hander Kazuo Fukumori, who pitched the last 13 years in Japan and had 17 saves last season before surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.
Even with Bradley, Hamilton and first baseman Ben Broussard, the most significant addition to the everyday lineup could be the return of a healthy Hank Blalock at third base. Blalock will also provide some needed pop in the batting order since Sammy Sosa wasn't re-signed.
Blalock, a two-time All-Star, hasn't played in the field since May after surgery to remove a rib that was affecting nerves. He appeared in 19 games as a designated hitter late in the season, then went through extra rehabilitation during the offseason.
``I'm back to normal,'' Blalock said. ``No setbacks or nothing. That's why I continued my therapy throughout the offseason. Jamie (Reed, the team trainer) didn't even think that I needed to, but I wanted to so I don't have to go to the training room any more.''
Hamilton hit .292 with 19 home runs and 47 RBIs in 298 at-bats for Cincinnati, which traded him because of an abundance of outfielders. The breakout season came after Hamilton was out of baseball from 2003-06, and went through eight rehab programs for addictions to alcohol and cocaine.
``This is maybe where I start becoming an established big leaguer,'' Hamilton said.
Bradley tore the ACL in his right knee and damaged cartilage when he was spun to the ground by San Diego manager Bud Black last September. Bradley expects to be ready for the start of the season ``in some capacity.'' So he could be a DH before he plays the outfield.
Broussard was primarily a backup first baseman and played outfield last year in Seattle. Texas will give him a chance to become an everyday first baseman and let Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who came from Atlanta in the Mark Teixeira deal, concentrate on catching.
Saltalamacchia split time between catcher and first base after the July trade, but will compete this spring with Gerald Laird for the starting job behind the plate.
``That's what I love to do, that's what I've always wanted to do,'' Saltalamacchia said. ``We'll see what happens.''