ARLINGTON (AP) – C.J. Wilson is sure to hear boos in his return to Texas. There will also be a lot of “Yuuuuu!”
Wilson, who left the Rangers after their second consecutive World Series appearance to sign as a free agent with the AL West rival Los Angeles Angels, makes his first start against his former team Friday night.
The series opener matches the left-hander against Yu Darvish, the Japanese standout who replaced him in the Texas rotation.
“I don’t get to face him. I would be very prepared for his repertoire of fastballs, curveballs and splitters. … I would be focusing a lot on that if it was the National League, but it’s not,” Wilson said. “My job is to face Nelson (Cruz), and Mike Young and Josh Hamilton. Who I pitch against means nothing.”
Maybe so, but the starting matchup provides an intriguing twist.
Wilson (4-2, 2.61) was the Rangers’ No. 1 starter last season, but he said Texas never made him a formal contract offer last winter before he signed a $77.5 million, five-year deal with his hometown Angels.
The Rangers instead committed more than $107 million for Darvish, the 25-year-old right-hander they scouted for more than two years. Darvish (4-1, 2.54 ERA) got a guaranteed $56 million, six-year contract and Texas also paid a record $51.7 million posting bid to his team in Japan.
Wilson had spent his entire career with the Rangers, who drafted him in the fifth round in 2001 out of Loyola Marymount. The left-hander made his major league debut in 2005 as a starter, then was a reliever and closer before moving back into the rotation and going 31-15 the last two seasons.
“We know it’s going to be a challenge, but we’re certainly not going crazy over facing C.J.,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “We’re going to go out there and do the best we can against him.”
Since giving up five runs in the first two innings of his major league debut last month, a home game he still won, Darvish has a 1.46 ERA over his last 37 innings. He won his first four decisions before a loss in Cleveland on Sunday.
“That guy is the enemy of our hitters, not me,” Wilson said, again trying to downplay the matchup against Darvish or any other pitcher.
Wilson said the Rangers made him a three-year offer just before his season-opening start last year, after he mentioned that it didn’t look like they would make any offer. But he felt the timing was weird and didn’t want to negotiate like that.
Now he’s pitching against the team he played with in two World Series.
“It’s not emotional for me. It’s baseball. It’s a sport. It’s my job,” Wilson said. “Baseball is not emotional at all. It’s a discipline for me. … For me, it’s a much more academic pursuit than emotional. I study their hitters, try to find a weakness, try to pitch to that weakness and then try to win the game.”
The Rangers again have the majors’ top hitting team. Going into a doubleheader Thursday at Baltimore, after hitting four homers in his previous game, Hamilton led the majors with a .406 average, 14 home runs and 36 RBIs.
Hamilton was among four Texas regulars hitting over .300. Catcher Mike Napoli was hitting only .237, but his seven homers were second-most on the team.
During spring training, after hearing that Napoli said he was going to homer against him, Wilson put the catcher’s phone number on Twitter. Wilson later deleted the tweet, and called it a prank.
“I don’t know why he did it or what his reasoning was but it was pretty silly,” Napoli said this week. “We’re going to treat it as a regular game. It’s a division rival but it’s early in the season. We expect to win every day.”
The AL West-leading Rangers, who set a franchise record by selling out their last six home games, have already sold every reserved seat for the three games against Los Angeles.
“We’ll be playing in front of a huge crowd in a stadium that’s relatively hostile to our team,” Wilson said. “I’m sure it’ll be fairly hostile to me personally. … Hey, they even booed me there when I was a reliever. The main objective is just focusing on the baseball aspect of it.”
Wilson described his former teammates as great and fun, reasons people like watching them.
“You’ve got to do what’s right for you. And they moved the way they did because that’s the way (general manager Jon) Daniels and Nolan Ryan and the ownership group wanted to go. And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Wilson said. “At the end of the day I’m not going to begrudge anybody for what they did or didn’t do.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)