SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) -When Eddie Guardado was unable to pitch, every day took on a different and painful meaning for the Texas Rangers reliever.
``Every day, it was a struggle, no doubt. It was a grind,'' Guardado said of the nearly yearlong recovery from ligament replacement surgery. ``It just makes you stronger mentally. That's what I got out of it, but I don't wish that on nobody. It's not fun.''
After two shortened seasons because of elbow problems, the two-time All-Star closer is back with his gregarious personality - with a new team. Nicknamed ``Everyday Eddie,'' Guardado also wants to make sure fans associate the moniker with how often he pitches, not time spent in rehab.
``I feel old right now, but I feel good,'' the 37-year-old Guardado said with a smile Thursday, a day after his second scoreless outing of the spring. ``No problem. I have natural soreness, which is good.''
Guardado retired all three batters he faced in his spring debut for the Rangers. He then loaded the bases Wednesday, loudly grunting in frustration after a three-ball count to one Milwaukee batter, before getting out of the jam with a foul pop.
``I think I kind of needed that, to extend my pitch count, be out there in that situation, get the blood going,'' Guardado said. ``That's where you bear down. It's kicking in.''
While Guardado still wants to be the closer - ``I love closing. It's in my heart,'' he said - he realizes that his role in Texas initially will likely be as a setup man and mentor to fellow left-hander C.J. Wilson, who took over the closing role last season when former NL Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne was traded.
``He's really hilarious and he's very serious about his job. ... We can respect him for his sense of humor, and also his leadership,'' Wilson said. ``It's a perfect, perfect fit for the young guys that we have.''
Wilson, a studious character, said Guardado has offered to address any questions other relievers have. That could lead to some interesting talks, especially during the countless innings waiting in the bullpen once the season begins.
``I'll start kind of with my typical analysis and severe question-asking phase,'' Wilson said. ``You've got to work into that. We're still in that `Hi, how are you?' phase right now.''
Guardado has 183 career saves, 11th among active pitchers, and the only active left-hander with more is Billy Wagner (358) of the New York Mets.
Texas is Guardado's third team since spending the first 11 seasons of his career in Minnesota, where he led the AL with 45 saves in 2002, then saved 41 games a year later. That was the two-year span he was an All-Star and pitched in the playoffs for the Twins.
Guardado pitched for Seattle from 2004-06, then lost his job as closer and was traded to Cincinnati. He had eight saves and a 1.29 ERA in 15 appearances for the Reds before needing elbow surgery.
``He really solidified our bullpen being able to pitch in the ninth inning,'' said former Reds manager Jerry Narron, now a special assistant for the Rangers, the team he previously managed. ``When we lost him the last month, we struggled, and last year we never had him.''
Last year was the first time that Guardado missed spring training, unable to pitch only six months after his surgery. He did return late in the season and had a 7.24 ERA in 15 appearances, but got better as he went and didn't allow a run in his last seven games.
``It's always great to have guys who've been around the game a long time and can pass on a lot of knowledge,'' said All-Star shortstop Michael Young, whose locker is next to Guardado's. ``Most important, Eddie is still a really good pitcher.''
Guardado brings a veteran presence the Rangers wanted in the bullpen and the clubhouse. Manager Ron Washington likes the attitude and experience Guardado is willing to share.
``He's always talking baseball. He has a lot to bring to our young kids. He's not afraid to share his wisdom,'' Washington said. ``We know what type of player he is once he gets between the lines.''
Notes: Rangers 3B Hank Blalock was feeling much better Thursday, two days after his vehicle was rear-ended while stopped at an intersection. The accident left him stiff and sore. He expects to go through drills Friday, and likely play Saturday. ... Starting pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Jason Jennings are both expected to pitch Friday against Milwaukee, instead of one of them staying at Surprise to pitch in a `B' game.

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