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ARLINGTON (AP) – Maybe all that attention on Yu Darvish this spring has helped shift some of the focus away from just how agonizingly close the Texas Rangers came to winning the World Series.
Even the exciting addition of Japan’s top pitcher, it’s unlikely anyone with the Rangers last season will ever be able to forget being twice within a strike of a series-clinching victory before losing Game 6 in extra innings and then blowing a 2-0 lead in a Game 7 loss to St. Louis.
“As hard as it was last year, we have to turn the page,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “It’s not easy to get over. I did. It took me a while.”
Michael Young, the longest-tenured Ranger going into his 12th season, had to go through plenty of last-place finishes in Texas before playing in the last two World Series and coming up short both times.
“It’s different because we know how talented we are as a team. We know what it takes to go and win big games and put ourselves in position to go out and have a lot of success,” Young said. “But at the same time the hunger is still there.”
The Rangers committed more than $107 million to get Darvish, the 25-year-old, 6-foot-5 right-hander who was 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA the past seven seasons in Japan’s Pacific League. But their pursuit of a third consecutive American League pennant and that elusive World Series championship isn’t all about Yu.
“It seems like people forget to talk about the rest of the team,” said left-hander Derek Holland, the 16-game winner who allowed only two hits pitching into the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series.
The top-hitting lineup in the major leagues is basically unchanged. When all healthy, opposing pitchers have to face in succession Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton, Beltre, Young, ALCS MVP Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli, the catcher coming off a career-best 30 homers.
Darvish replaces left-hander C.J. Wilson, who got a five-year deal in free agency from the Los Angeles Angels after winning 31 games the past two seasons. The AL West rivals also added Albert Pujols, the Cardinals’ longtime slugger who is now set to be going against the Rangers in the same division for a decade.
“This is 2012. We know what happened in 2011 and we’ll learn from it, but it’s not going to be the focus,” sixth-year manager Ron Washington said. “We still have a good group of guys together. We lost one guy, C.J. Wilson. That’s not going to take us down.”
Washington got a two-year contract extension through 2014 after the Rangers’ second consecutive AL pennant. He is the first manager in major league history to have his team’s victory total increase four consecutive seasons after his initial year. Texas won 75 games in 2007 after Washington replaced the fired Buck Showalter. The victory total increased each year after that — to 79, 87, 90 and a franchise-record 96 last season.
The starting rotation the Rangers broke spring training with last year was intact the entire season, and all five starters won at least 13 games. Besides Wilson and Holland, they had Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando. Lewis will likely start the home season opener April 6 against the Chicago White Sox.
Ogando was unexpectedly thrust from the bullpen into the rotation late last spring because of an injury to Tommy Hunter. Ogando responded by winning 13 games and becoming an All-Star, but the right-hander is expected to be a reliever again this season because the Rangers are sticking to the idea of using hard-throwing Neftali Feliz as a starter. They considered that move last spring before keeping Feliz as their closer, but the addition in free agency of four-time All-Star closer Joe Nathan made the Feliz switch doable this year.
The 37-year-old Nathan missed the 2010 season following Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow and initially struggled to regain his form with Minnesota last season. But after missing nearly a month on the disabled list, the right-hander pitched well in the second half, saving 11 games and holding opposing batters to a .207 average.
“Obviously the team has been where we all want to be, and it’s pretty much the same group of guys here,” Nathan said. “I think they’re very hungry to get back where they were and be so close, so obviously they’re going to be extremely hungry to get back there. That puts me right where I need to be because I know I’m hungry to get a chance to be in that situation.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley and AP freelance writers Alan Eskew and Jonathan Dalton contributed to this report from Surprise, Ariz.)
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