Rangers ready to get down to business in games
Fielder, Beltre expected to be in Thursday's opening lineup behind Darvish
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- First baseman Prince Fielder and third baseman Adrian Beltre did not play in either intrasquad game but are expected to be in the starting lineup when the Rangers open Cactus League play at 2:05 p.m. CT on Thursday against the Royals at Surprise Stadium.
Fans can listen to the game live on Gameday Audio.
Yu Darvish will start for the Rangers, who will be the visiting team at the stadium they have shared with the Royals since 2003. It will be the first of 28 Cactus League games for the Rangers before they return to Texas on March 27. Four of those games will be against the Royals, and the Rangers are 29-24-2 against their complex partners since moving to Arizona in '03.
Fielder and Beltre have been doing their work on the side the last few days, but the plan is for them to be ready to go on Thursday against Royals starter Bruce Chen.
"Obviously, I feel decent at the plate, but there is a long time left in Spring Training," Fielder said. "It will be nice to face some live pitching though."
The Rangers had intrasquad games on Monday and Tuesday. During those games, the Rangers placed extra emphasis on situational hitting and fundamental defense. After every half-inning, before the teams switched sides, the Rangers worked on one specific bunt defense play.
"The last few days, we've played clean sharp baseball," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I've seen fundamental execution and I've seen guys try to do what the game asks them to do. Once the bell rings, there is no telling what will happen. But I am pleased with what I've seen."
Washington likes to use his projected Opening Day lineup in the first Cactus League game, but he will be missing three starters on Thursday. Alex Rios is still out with a sore big toe on his left foot, second baseman Jurickson Profar (shoulder tendinitis) has only now begun a throwing program and catcher Geovany Soto isn't expected to be ready until mid-March after undergoing surgery on his left ankle on Saturday.
Washington said J.P. Arencibia will be behind the plate, utility infielder Adam Rosales will be at second base and Michael Choice will be in right field. It will be the beginning of a busy spring for Choice, who is the leading candidate to get the most plate appearances in the Cactus League.
Choice is competing for a spot on the team as a reserve outfielder and platoon designated hitter, and the Rangers want to see him as much as possible this spring. Other players competing for spots on the bench or in the bullpen will get similar consideration, but this is Choice's first spring with the Rangers after being acquired from the Athletics in the offseason.
"I want to get a darn good look at him," Washington said. "He better get his pillow because he's going to be on those long bus rides."
Rosales is competing for a spot on the bench as a utility infielder along with Josh Wilson, Brett Lillibridge and Kensuke Tanaka. Top Minor League prospects Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor are in camp, but the Rangers aren't considering them for a utility spot. The Rangers want those two playing every day at Double-A Frisco.
Choice is competing for a backup outfield spot along with fellow right-handed hitter Alex Castellanos and left-handed hitters Brad Snyder, Bryan Petersen, Engel Beltre and Jim Adduci. Castellanos, acquired on waivers from the Red Sox this winter, can also play third and second base.
The Rangers also want to take a hard look at Kevin Kozmanoff, who was a starting third baseman for the Padres and Athletics from 2007-10, and see if he has anything left. They also want to see if he can play first base, which he has done on occasion in the Minor Leagues.
"He has been very good so far," assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "He came in highly recommended by our scouts. He has good makeup, plus glove and plus power. We're eager to see him in games and see how it plays out."
The Cactus League also allows the competition for spots on the pitching staff to begin in earnest. Darvish starts on Thursday, with Tommy Hanson following him on the mound. Alexi Ogando starts Friday against the Royals, and Martin Perez starts Saturday against the Athletics in Phoenix. Then comes Robbie Ross on Sunday against the White Sox in Surprise and Colby Lewis against the Indians on Monday at home.
With Matt Harrison not expected to be ready by Opening Day, Hanson, Lewis and Ross are among the candidates for the final two spots in the rotation behind Darvish, Perez and Ogando. Nick Tepesch is also a candidate but is sidelined with some stiffness in his back. Tepesch is scheduled for live batting practice on Friday.
"I'm looking forward to seeing the pitchers get through their innings and do what they have to do," Washington said. "I expect the pitchers to be ahead of the hitters, and I expect them to take advantage of it."
Sunday will mark the scheduled Cactus League debuts for closer candidates Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria. Tanner Scheppers is another candidate but currently behind because of some earlier back spasms. He is scheduled to throw live batting practice on Thursday.
That will be in the morning. In the afternoon, the Cactus League begins.
"We know from this point on, we have a game every time we come to the park," Washington said. "Before you know it, we'll be on a plane to Texas."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.