March 26, 2015

When Yu Darvish pitched only one inning this spring before season-ending elbow surgery, the Texas Rangers were already off to an ominous start.

The Rangers lost their ace even before what they are still hoping will be a comeback season.

''There is no way to spin that, other than it's a tough deal for us. He's one of the best pitchers in the game,'' general manager Jon Daniels said this spring. ''That being said, it's one guy. It's not 17. Good teams and good organizations have had similar news at similar times before and found a way. That's got to be our mentality.''

Texas had 22 different players spend time on the disabled list last season, including Darvish missing the final seven weeks with elbow inflammation before needing Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery this spring.

The aching result for the Rangers was the American League's worst record (67-95) and their most losses since 1985, ending an impressive four-year run of 90-win seasons with their only two World Series appearances (2010-11).

Darvish was 10-7 and an All-Star again before getting sidelined last season.

As for the top of the rotation without him, the January trade to get local pitcher Yovani Gallardo proved even more important. Gallardo, who can be a free agent after this season, started the last five season openers for Milwaukee.

Derek Holland, who didn't pitch until September last season after knee surgery, had a strong finish. Shoulder soreness slowed the left-hander this spring, but that likely set him up to start the home opener April 10 against Houston, in the fifth game of the season.

Also among the injured in 2014 were slugger Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, the big offensive additions before last season.

Fielder had missed only one game the previous five seasons with Detroit and Milwaukee before being limited to only 42 games and three home runs in his Rangers debut because a herniated disk in his neck that required surgery. Choo played 123 games, but his on-base percentage dipped from .423 in 2013 for Cincinnati to .340 before operations late last season for a bone spur in his left elbow and torn cartilage in his left ankle.

''There's no telling what this ballclub can do,'' new manager Jeff Banister said. ''They've yet to have an opportunity to play together. Let's hope they get a really strong shot of playing together for 162-plus (games).''

Here are a few things to know about the Rangers, who open the season April 6 at Oakland:

CLOSING TIME: Neftali Feliz is back in his World Series role for the Rangers as their closer after an ill-fated and injury-plagued attempt to be a starter. The right-hander was 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in eight games (seven starts) in 2012 before Tommy John surgery. Feliz was 2-1 with 13 saves in 14 chances with a 1.99 ERA in 30 relief appearances after rejoining the Rangers last July, just before Joakim Soria was traded.

BELTRE'S IMPACT: Third baseman Adrian Beltre is going into his 17th major league season, his fifth with the Rangers and signed through next season. ''He's the heart and soul of this club,'' Banister said. ''A shining light in the storm, that's what he was last year. ... Do yourself a favor and watch that last at-bat he put together in 2014.'' Determined not to be the final out of the season, Beltre went from an 0-2 count to getting a single on the third straight slider thrown after that.

LEFT OF CENTER: With pretty much every other defensive position set, Jake Smolinski and Ryan Rua entered spring as candidates in left field. Both showed promising glimpses in short stints in their major league debuts the second half of last season. Rua, who started at the end of 2014, has been tabbed as the starter for this season. Smolinski, who can play all three outfield positions, is set as the fourth outfielder. Choo moves from left to right after Alex Rios departed in free agency.

MISSING WORK: The 26 different DL stints for the Rangers last season amounted to 2,281 days lost. That was 833 more than Arizona, who had the second most, and more than double any other American League team.

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