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Rangers never quit in Banister's debut, and now defend title

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Jeff Banister liked the story about some college football walk-ons, one the manager related to his AL West champion Texas Rangers.

Written on the wristbands of those walk-ons was ''YCBM'' - an acronym for ''you can't beat me.''

''Think about what our guys did last year,'' Banister said. ''Those kids had a competitive attitude and they weren't going to give in. I know our guys thrive when they are told they can't do something.''

The Rangers lived up to their ''Never Ever Quit'' motto last season in Banister's managerial debut, when they overcame an 8-16 start and were still eight games out of first place after losing newly acquired ace Cole Hamels' first start on Aug. 1. They took over the division lead in mid-September and who knows what might have happened if not for Jose Bautista's bat-flipping homer after three consecutive errors in the deciding game of the AL Division Series.

Banister would never say which coach told him that story this winter, or what school it was. He said all that mattered was the message.

''It's about competing,'' Banister said.

This season, Texas has Hamels to start opening day. And Yu Darvish, the ace who missed all of last year after Tommy John surgery, could be back in the rotation by late May.

The bullpen that improved with the emergence of Shawn Tolleson as a reliable closer and the midseason acquisitions of Jake Diekman and Sam Dyson, got bolstered even more this offseason with Tom Wilhelmsen (in a trade from Seattle) and Tony Barnette (free agent from Japan).

Except for slugger Josh Hamilton on the disabled list until at least May, while still recovering from surgery twice last year on his left knee, the division-winning lineup is pretty much intact.

A few things to know about the Rangers, whose opener is Monday at home against Seattle:

IAN IN THE OUTFIELD: Former All-Star shortstop Ian Desmond was still unsigned at the end of February when he agreed to join the Rangers to play left field. He played two games in the outfield during his seven seasons with the Nationals. Desmond adjusted to the outfield in spring training games. ''It's something we felt he would be able to do, and all indicators are he is more than capable,'' Banister said.

BOLSTERED BULLPEN: One of the biggest questions going into last season is now one of the team's strengths. ''It's a complete 180 turnaround from last spring ... and it's exciting,'' Tolleson said. ''At the same time, there's a lot of responsibility that comes with that.'' Tolleson had 35 saves last season, even the right-hander's first one didn't come until May 20. Diekman, who came from Philadelphia with Hamels, had a 2.08 ERA in 26 appearances for Texas. Dyson was 2-1 with a 1.15 ERA in 31 games after coming from Miami. And now Wilhelmsen and Barnette are in the mix.

WAITING ON YU: While Darvish never faced live hitters in Arizona this spring, the right-hander looked strong throughout during bullpen sessions. He said he believes he can get big league hitters out now, but the Rangers appear intent on sticking to the timetable for Darvish to return in late May or early June. ''I don't look too far ahead,'' he said.

FIFTH STARTER: A.J. Griffin hasn't pitched in the majors since 2013, and likely won't be on the opening day roster, but could be the Rangers' fifth starter. Griffin, who last pitched for Oakland before right elbow surgery and a right shoulder strain, had a 6.00 ERA in six spring training games. He struck out 19 in 18 innings with only two walks. Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez were optioned to the minors, and veteran Jeremy Guthrie was released.

PITCHING AND HITTING (COACHES): Former Rangers pitcher Doug Brocail became their pitching coach after the team failed to reach terms on a new contract with Mike Maddux, who is now in Washington. Hitting coach Dave Magadan is also gone and was replaced by Anthony Iapoce, who is making his major league debut after 10 years as a minor league hitting instructor.