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03/29/07 4:00 PM ET

Gagne to start season on disabled list

Reliever needs more innings before pitching in Major Leagues

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers broke camp on Thursday and are ready to head back to Texas. Reliever Eric Gagne wasn't with them, and he won't pitch for them for another two weeks.

The Rangers have decided to put Gagne on the disabled list and give him more time to get ready for the season. Gagne, who has pitched in just 16 games over the past two seasons, has appeared in only three exhibition games this spring.

"This is really us being overcautious," general manager Jon Daniels said. "He feels great, and he felt great after he pitched [on Tuesday]. He wants to be with the team. But we're going to play it safe and make sure he's 100 percent healthy for the season."

Gagne underwent back surgery on July 8, 2006, and elbow surgery on June 24, 2005, and he still is trying to regain full arm strength after two years of near inactivity.

"I know from experience you just can't put a date on anything," Gagne said. "They're pulling the reins in on me, and it's good. They feel there's no reason for me to push it, and I totally understand it. I don't feel I need a lot of innings. But, do I need some innings? Yeah, maybe."

Akinori Otsuka, who saved 32 games for the Rangers last year, will be the closer again until Gagne comes back. But manager Ron Washington said Gagne will be the closer when he is ready to come off the disabled list. Kameron Loe and Joaquin Benoit will help fill Otsuka's eighth-inning role.

Asked if Gagne would be considered for another role, Washington said: "No chance. Gagne will stay in the closer's role."

The Rangers are hoping to get Gagne into seven Minor League games, including back-to-back contests on April 6-7 with Double-A Frisco. If all goes well, his final appearance on the medical rehabilitation assignment will be April 10. He then would join the Rangers and be activated on April 13 in Seattle.

"Back to back is not the beat-all, but it would be good to get him in back-to-back games," pitching coach Mark Connor said.

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Connor said the Rangers have been discussing this move for several days and finally made the decision on Thursday. Gagne gave up four runs in his last appearance, on Tuesday against the San Diego Padres, but Connor said that performance did not impact the Rangers' decision.

"It's been in the back of our minds," Connor said. "It just got to the point where we had to be realistic. We were cautious with him from the beginning, and maybe that cost us, but I don't think so. The ballclub and [team owner] Mr. Hicks has a lot invested in this guy. We're going to win a championship, and we want this guy to be with us in September and October."

Gagne will remain in Surprise until Thursday, when he'll rejoin the Rangers in Arlington for Opening Day. He'll get to participate in the Opening Day ceremonies and then join Frisco.

"It's frustrating," Gagne said. "You're so anxious to leave and help this team. But I'm not looking at this as a negative step. It just gives me more time to be ready. I don't look at it any other way. What's best for the team, that's all I care about."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.