Rangers set rotation; Darvish will debut April 9
Lewis handed Opening Day assignment, followed by two lefties
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Two Japanese baseball icons will go head to head when the Rangers play the Mariners on April 9 at the Ballpark in Arlington.That's when Yu Darvish will make his first Major League start, according to the rotation announced by Rangers manager Ron Washington on Thursday. Darvish will follow Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison in the rotation with Neftali Feliz as the fifth starter. "Wherever and whenever I'm told to pitch, I'll just do my best," Darvish said. "That's all I'm thinking about right now." The alignment means Darvish will go up against Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki in his first start. "Get him out ... that's my thought," Washington said. "Ichiro is one of the best players in the Major Leagues, and Darvish is trying to establish himself as one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues. But it's not about Darvish versus Ichiro. It's about Darvish versus the Mariners." Lewis will be making his first Opening Day start when he pitches against the White Sox on April 6 at the Ballpark. He will be the fourth different Opening Day starter for the Rangers in the past four years, following Kevin Millwood (2009), Scott Feldman (2010) and C.J. Wilson last year. Lewis was 14-10 with a 4.40 ERA in 32 starts for the Rangers last year and is 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in eight starts over the past two postseasons.
"He's my veteran," Washington said. "He's the guy who is dependable. You know what you're going to get from him. He's going to battle and he's my most experienced pitcher."Lewis will be followed against the White Sox by Holland and Harrison. They are both left-handed, and Washington at one point talked about splitting them up in the rotation. But the Rangers decided against that for now. "[Pitching coach Mike Maddux] set it up this way before we got to Spring Training, according to tenure, and we kept it that way," Washington said. "We didn't see any reason this spring to change it. Each one is doing well. The only thing I ask from these guys is each time they take the ball, they keep us in the ballgame. If they do that, my guys will find a way to win the game." Darvish and Feliz have never started in the Major Leagues. Darvish was signed as a free agent out of Japan this offseason, and Feliz spent the past two seasons as the Rangers' closer. But Darvish made 164 starts in Japan and Feliz made 54 starts in the Minor Leagues. Washington said there are no concerns about having them pitch back to back, either. "We have some unknowns, but those unknowns are very talented," Washington said. "I'm going into the season believing they can keep us in ballgames." Feliz was the one question mark going into the final week of Spring Training. He experienced some tightness in his right shoulder during a start against the Cubs on March 20 and that delayed his return to the mound by two days. But he pitched four innings without problem against the Royals on Tuesday and had another good bullpen session on Thursday. He is scheduled to start on three days' rest against Indians on Saturday in Goodyear. The goal is for him to throw 80 pitches. He will then have nine days' rest before he makes his first start on April 10 against the Mariners. Washington said Feliz will likely throw at least one simulated game between those two outings. "He says he feels great and he's ready to go," Washington said. Washington also spoke with Feldman and Alexi Ogando on Thursday and told them officially that they would start the season in the bullpen. Both came into camp making it clear they wanted to be starters but would be willing to do what the club asked. "They were disappointed and they should be," Washington said. "Fortunately for the Rangers, we have depth. Those two guys could be starters in any rotation in the big leagues. But they are part of a winning organization and they'll be part of a winning bullpen."
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.