HOUSTON -- Rangers general manager Jon Daniels' trip to Japan was as much about goodwill as it was scouting specific players. Daniels returned from his five-day visit to Japan on Monday.

"It was my first time there," Daniels said. "I had never been there before. From a tourist standpoint, it was really nice. Obviously, we have spent a lot of money ... a lot of time and resources in building up our operations. Obviously, I saw a couple of players, but I really wanted to get a feel for the baseball culture and our own operation."

There is no secret that Daniels spent one night watching Yu Darvish pitch for the Nippon Ham Fighters. Darvish is one of the premier pitchers in Japan and could be posted by the Fighters this offseason, allowing him to jump to the United States.

The Rangers are expected to be interested. They submitted a competitive bid on Daisuke Matsuzaka a few years ago. But Daniels didn't need to fly halfway around the world to know that Darvish is a premier pitcher.

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Success in Japan comes at many levels. The Rangers did extremely well in signing Colby Lewis two years ago, and Yoshinori Tateyama is working his way into becoming a productive member of the Rangers' bullpen. The team looks at all possibilities.

"This trip wasn't about one player," Daniels said. "This was more looking at our operations. It was a quick trip. I didn't get to meet as many people as I would like. But the timing was good, after the Draft and before things heat up. My phone worked and my e-mail worked, so I was able to stay connected."

Lowe gives Rangers hope in bullpen

HOUSTON -- Mark Lowe threw three pitches on Wednesday, and the two fastballs were clocked at 97 mph. Neftali Feliz topped out at 96 mph in the ninth inning. That shouldn't be surprising. Lowe's fastball has averaged 96.5 mph this season, while Feliz is at 95.6.

"Obviously based on the beginning of the year, velocity is not everything," Lowe said. "But it's nice to know. I have felt good all year. I worked hard all offseason to get that back."

Lowe, who had back surgery 13 months ago, is 2-1 with a 3.96 ERA in 27 games this season. He has a 2.82 ERA since returning from a 16-day stay at Triple-A Round Rock on May 4, and he has a 1.30 ERA in his past seven games since allowing two home runs against the Yankees on June 15. In seven innings, he has allowed three hits, two walks and nine strikeouts.

Lowe has taken a little pressure off the Rangers in their relentless search for bullpen help. Texas is still talking to other clubs about relievers, but in the near future, it could have Darren O'Day back off the disabled list and matched with Lowe as their right-handed setup relievers.

"I have been really encouraged by Mark Lowe the past week ... he looks good," general manager Jon Daniels said. "Darren Oliver looks good. If we can get O'Day mixed in with those guys and that can come together, that would be more of what we really need."

Lowe knows that the Rangers have been active in looking for relief help.

"Nothing that goes on around the team is going to change the way I go about my business," Lowe said. "I have a certain agenda every day and the same frame of mind: take the ball and get the job done what the manager asks me to do."

Rangers mull options with Ogando

HOUSTON -- Alexi Ogando pitches for the Rangers on Friday. With Scott Feldman close to returning from the disabled list, this could be Ogando's last start until after the All-Star break.

Ogando has lost three straight starts, and the Rangers are considering giving him some downtime to rest from the rigors of his first season as a starter.

"We have talked about using the All-Star break to give him some time just to recharge his batteries until we put him back out there," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We have done that in the Minors with some of our guys. We have had them skip a start. Martin Perez has been skipped. We do that with some of our young pitchers who are going through the grind."

Ogando could start on Friday, then be optioned to the Minors until after the All-Star break. Because they have an off-day on July 18, the Rangers would not need a fifth starter until July 23. Ogando wouldn't actually report to the Minors, but would rather just rest and work on the side with pitching coach Mike Maddux.

Right now, though, Texas has no plans to move Ogando back to the bullpen. The Rangers' biggest concern is getting Ogando to throw his changeup. Maddux has been working with Ogando on that in his bullpen throwing sessions.

"He has a good one, he's just got to throw it," Maddux said.

Several Rangers progressing in rehab stints

ARLINGTON -- Rangers players in varying stages of their rehabilitation stints appeared on the Triple-A Round Rock Express roster on Thursday.

Scott Feldman started and threw 100 pitches, giving up three runs on eight hits over six innings. This could be the last rehab start for his right knee, which he underwent surgery for on Nov. 3.

The Rangers have talked about giving Alexi Ogando a rest through the All-Star break, and Feldman would appear to be the natural candidate to be called up to take his spot in the rotation for the short term.

Darren O'Day relieved Feldman and pitched two innings, giving up two earned runs. He had not allowed an earned run through 4 1/3 innings at Round Rock. He did, however, strike out five of the nine batters he faced.

Mike Napoli played catcher, the first of a planned four-game rehab stint. He went 0-for-2 with one walk and a sacrifice fly and was replaced in the eighth by Kevin Cash. Napoli will play first base on Friday for the Express.

Tommy Hunter pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save, as he has been coming out of the bullpen recently to assess his ability to handle the role for the Rangers when his rehab stint is over.

Davis gives Rangers more options to consider

HOUSTON -- Chris Davis remains on the Rangers' minds, because he is clobbering Triple-A pitching and because he has shown he can play the outfield. Davis has played 10 games in the outfield at Round Rock, and the Rangers are beginning to see it as a viable option at the Major League level.

"It gives us options," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We don't have any immediate plans of bringing him up, but it is something we have talked about."

Davis has played 33 games for Round Rock and is hitting .374, with 19 home runs and 52 RBIs in 145 plate appearances. He was named to the Triple-A All-Star Game earlier this week.

Davis has also played 18 games at third base, although his best position remains first base. He is considered a premium defensive player at the position, but the only way he plays first base for the Rangers is if they move Mitch Moreland to the outfield.

"We haven't eliminated any possibility, but we don't have any plans for him at this point," Daniels said. "You have to give Chris a lot of credit. He has handled his situation very professionally."

Andrus in, Cruz out of the lineup

HOUSTON -- Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus was back in the lineup on Thursday after missing four straight games with a sprained left wrist. He replaces Andres Blanco, who was 6-for-17 during Andrus' absence.

The Rangers are 10-6 in 16 games in which Blanco has appeared at shortstop, and he has committed just one error.

"He does the job," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "This kid doesn't complain about anything. He just works, works, works. That's why I don't hesitate putting him in there. I wish I could play him more, but we've got some talented players that don't get hurt very often."

Washington also had David Murphy in the lineup on Thursday and gave Nelson Cruz the night off. He did so even though the Astros had left-hander Wandy Rodriguez on the mound.

"I just felt like he needed a day," Washington said. "Hopefully, Murphy against this left-hander will get a chance to lock in also."

Worth noting

• The Rangers worked out veteran left-handed pitcher Scott Kazmir, who was released earlier this month by the Angels. The Rangers were doing what they call "due diligence," but any interest would likely be viewed as a long-term reclamation project.

• Pitcher Martin Perez pitched one scoreless inning in the Texas League All-Star Game on Wednesday. The Frisco RoughRiders sent six position players to the game, but Leonys Martin, Michael Bianucci, Renny Osuna, Tommy Mendonca, Jose Ruiz and Jose Felix were a combined 1-for-14.

• Matt West, the former infielder whom the Rangers have converted into a pitcher, has thrown 5 1/3 scoreless innings for Class A Spokane, allowed three hits and struck out eight without a walk.