SPRING TRAINING FINAL

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers’ stay in Arizona is dwindling down to a precious few days. The last game is scheduled for this Sunday, and the team leads up to the Friday, April 6 home opener with exhibitions next week against a team from Mexico (Tuesday night in Arlington) and against the organization’s top two minor league affiliates in their home parks Monday (Round Rock) and Wednesday (Frisco).

Neftali Feliz will be evaluated Thursday after his Tuesday minor league start. All signs are positive that the shoulder tightness he experienced in his previous start is no longer a problem. Assuming he is pronounced healthy, the likelihood is the Rangers will announce starting pitchers for the first five games of the season in this order: Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish and Feliz. That would pit Darvish against Seattle and the best hitter ever to immigrate to the major leagues from Japan – Ichiro Suzuki – on Monday April 9.

There are still a number of players battling for roster spots. Three of those are in the bullpen, and manager Ron Washington said the decision on those spots could go right down to opening day. Closer Joe Nathan, Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams and Scott Feldman are locked into four bullpen positions. Robbie Ross, Michael Kirkman and Neil Cotts are vying for the left-handed bullpen specialist. That leaves Mark Lowe, Koji Uehara, Yoshi Tateyama, Tanner Scheppers and Greg Reynolds, all right-handers, fighting over two roster spots.

In the outfield, all indications are that David Murphy has forged his way into the starting lineup as the team’s left fielder, with Josh Hamilton moving to center. Neither Craig Gentry nor Julio Borbon has distinguished themselves in center field. Brandon Snyder, an infielder by trade is getting a look as the possible fourth outfielder. He is hitting .333 in 27 at bats, hits right handed, the preferred side for this roster spot, and has the added versatility of being able to serve as the team’s emergency catcher.

Alberto Gonzalez seems to have a slight edge over Luis Hernandez for the back-up middle infield spot. Neither has shown much at the plate, and Ranger fans can count on GM Jon Daniels to be monitoring the waiver wire and trade winds for an alternative. There are usually a number of transactions as active rosters get cut down to the final 25.

OTHER MATTERS:

* Ian Kinsler’s agent has been engaged in recent days discussing a contract extension for the second sacker. Kinsler is signed through this season, and the Rangers hold a club option for 2013. However, there is no indication that the sides are moving closer to an agreement.

* There is virtually no word out of camp as to a contract extension for Josh Hamilton, whose contract runs through this season. Hamilton would be the highest profile free agent in next winter’s market, and there is every likelihood that he’ll be wearing a different uniform next year if he becomes a free agent.

* The Rangers already trail in the American League race. Early this morning in Tokyo, Seattle beat Oakland 3-1 in 11 innings, with Ichiro driving in the winning run with his fourth hit of the game. Seattle now holds a one-half game lead over the Rangers and Angels and a one-game lead over Oakland in the West standings. The teams play again Thursday in the Tokyo Dome.

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