Darvish Gets His 1st Rangers Opener Against AL Champ Indians

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ARLINGTON (AP) — Yu Darvish is getting the start he’s never had with the Texas Rangers.

Darvish will be on the mound on opening day for the Rangers for the first time Monday. The two-time defending AL West champions take on the American League champion Cleveland Indians.

“I try to think, it’s not just opening day, just take it as another game,” Darvish said through his translator.

Corey Kluber pitches in Cleveland’s season opener for the third consecutive season, all on the road for the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner.

Darvish is going into the sixth and final season of the contract he got when he joined the Rangers from Japan. The ace right-hander missed the first two months last season still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery that wiped out his entire 2015 season.

“Right now I’m not thinking about any of that stuff. I just don’t,” said Darvish, who is 46-30 with a 3.29 ERA in 100 starts with the Rangers.

Asked what he sees in Darvish now, manager Jeff Banister responded, “A very healthy, exceptional right-handed pitcher who’s as good a pitcher as there is in the game.”

Kluber was 18-9 in 32 starts last year during the regular season, then went 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA in six postseason starts that included three in the World Series. With all that, he threw nearly 250 innings.

“I feel right on track to where I would normally be at this point,” Kluber said after a long spring that allowed him to pace himself into the season.

“When you are as dedicated as he is, a lot of good things will happen,” manager Terry Francona said. “He is one of the best pitchers in the game.”

Mike Napoli is back for his third stint with the Rangers after spending last season with the Indians. Napoli was part of the 2011 World Series with Texas, then won a championship with the Boston Red Sox in 2013 before going to the World Series with Cleveland.

“I built great friendships with a lot of people over there,” Napoli said. “I’ve been through playing against a team that I’ve played for before. I kind of know how to handle it now. There’s definitely going to be emotions, opening day, new season, facing them. It’s going to be a fun time.”

Napoli returned to Texas, which lost Mitch Moreland in free agency to Boston, after the Indians signed slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million deal that was the richest in club history.

Encarnacion hit 42 homers and had 127 RBIs last season for Toronto, which the last two years has beaten the Rangers in the AL Division Series. He had only one all spring with Cleveland.

Darvish’s catcher Monday will be Jonathan Lucroy, who at the non-waiver deadline last summer blocked a proposed trade from Milwaukee to Cleveland. Lucroy then was dealt to the Rangers, who exercised their team option to keep him this season.

Lucroy caught this spring for the United States team that won the World Baseball Classic.

“It’s an experience you can look back on and smile upon,” Lucroy said of the WBC. “The lineup I called against the Dominican team, two games, that’s legitimately the best lineup I’ve ever had to face as a catcher. … No lineup is going to be that good. I learned a lot from it.”

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