Senior Writer

Rangers camp report: Getting on fine without Lee


SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Everyone loves a good argument, but while armchair managers and pitching coaches are shouting at each other over Neftali Feliz ("He should start!" "No, he should relieve!" "Tastes great!" "Less filling!" "Shut up!"), the great thing for the Texas Rangers is this:

That's a whole lot better than shedding post-World Series tears over the departure of Cliff Lee.

Look, losing Lee is lamentable.

"Any team that had Cliff Lee and lost him would miss him," Rangers manager Ron Washington says. "He's an animal. He's a stud. But the game doesn't stop.

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Scott Miller What I like and dislike about the Rangers so far this spring. Read >>
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"We'll worry about what we have, and not what we don't have."

It ain't exactly "Win One for the Gipper," but if there's a motto rattling 'round the Rangers' clubhouse this spring, that's perfect.

As AL MVP Josh Hamilton is quick to remind, the Rangers were leading the AL West last summer when they acquired Lee from Seattle. Leading, as in "first place."

And partly because he was bothered by back issues in August, Lee had a losing regular-season record with the Rangers (4-6 over 15 starts).

No question the Rangers rode his arm in October. But you have to get into the tournament first, and the Rangers last year showed they have what it takes -- with or without Lee.

Secondly, just as a year ago at this time nobody pictured Lee wearing a Texas uniform, who knows what twists await in Arlington this summer? Feliz breaking camp as a starter, becoming dominant and leaving the Rangers thankful they didn't blow their entire budget on re-signing Lee? Feliz throwing lasers in the ninth-inning while the Great Brains of this franchise, president Nolan Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels, go out and acquire another starter in July?

Point is, we're at the dawn of a new age in Texas as the Rangers move on to what's next after advancing to the first World Series in franchise history.

No question the organization over the past year has undergone, if not a sea change in culture, a definite shift in persona.

It was clear when they took their winter caravan around what heretofore had been a football state with fleeting interest in hardball, and sizable crowds showed up everywhere.

"Huge crowds," says John Blake, executive vice-president for communications. "And I'm talking in Lubbock and San Antonio, places that are six, seven hours from the Metroplex."

Super Bowl week in Dallas, when the ice storm hit and nearly paralyzed events surrounding the Big Game, the Rangers scheduled something and 300 people showed up. For Chris Davis and David Murphy!

The Rangers in 2011 will play before the highest increase in season ticketholders they've ever had, nearly double from the roughly 7,500 full-season tickets to around 14,000.

Fantasy Writer

Late-round flier ... Tommy Hunter: Hunter is turning into quite a little winning machine for the Rangers. He has a .647 winning percentage in less than 50 starts with the Rangers, this coming after he posted a .571 winning percentage in the minors. Hunter could be just scratching the surface with his potential. It's unlikely he is going to be an elite strikeout pitcher, but his ERA, WHIP and hits per nine innings has dwindled each year he has been in the majors. Hunter has a .765 winning percentage, 3.70 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 24 home outings (23 starts). Hunter went 13-4 last season after starting the year 8-0. He hasn't even reached 30-plus starts in a season yet, but if he keeps on his current path, he could easily be a threat for 15 wins. With little investment needed, Hunter could be a great return for Fantasy owners.

Bust ... Adrian Beltre: Beltre is going to a hitter-friendly ballpark and will likely bat behind one of the best hitters in baseball -- Hamilton. However, it is worth pointing out that Beltre got paid this offseason and his best numbers have come in contract years. Case in point, Beltre totaled a career-high 48 homers, 121 RBI and .334 average in 2004 -- his first free-agent year. His second free-agent year -- 2009 -- doesn't really count because he was injured. However, last year he had a career-high 49 doubles while posting his second-best numbers in homers (28), RBI (102) and batting average (.321). Beltre slumped to .255, 19 homers and 87 RBI in 2005 after his career year. It wouldn't surprise me if Beltre's numbers take a dip in all major categories this season.

Breakout ... Mitch Moreland: You see Moreland's .255 batting average in 47 regular-season games and you probably don't think much of him. But take a closer at some of his other numbers. He had a .364 on-base percentage and a .833 OPS. In 15 playoff games, Moreland hit .348, while posting a .400 on-base percentage and .900 OPS. This coming after Moreland had a .313 average, .383 on-base percentage and .892 OPS in the minors. He is also a solid gap hitter and run producer. Not every elite prospect hits consistently when they first arrive in the majors. But Moreland's postseason run has to be a huge confidence booster. Also working in his favor is that he doesn't have to be the savior since Texas' lineup is loaded, so he will probably see some good pitches to hit. He also plays in one of the majors' top offensive parks.

-- Michael Hurcomb
Rangers outlook | Depth Chart | 2011 Draft Prep

When the club put individual seats on sale for opening day against the Red Sox, they were flooded with 120,000 registrations (for a lottery in which those picked could purchase up to four seats each).

Meantime, spring training ticket sales are up some 40 percent.

"Our internal expectations, we've felt like we've been building [toward this] for awhile," Daniels says. "But there's no doubt that, externally, it feels like we've viewed differently.

"The reality for me is, it was a great accomplishment. A lot of people put in a lot of effort to make it happen. The players killed it. 'Wash' and his staff, the whole organization.

"But the reality is, there are a lot of teams that have gotten there once. That doesn't take anything away from it, but that's not our goal. First of all, we want to win it. And second of all, we don't want to be a one-hit wonder. And we need to prove that.

"I think there are still some skeptics out there who question our pitching, question some different things."

Such as: "It's too bad," says one veteran scout. "If they had one top-of-the-rotation starter, it would be lights out. Their lineup rakes."

Yes, the Rangers of Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinser and Michael Young (for now, at least) are explosive.

But can a Texas rotation led by C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis bring more October glory?

Wilson, who won 15 games and pitched 204 innings after four years in the bullpen, looks at himself and Lewis, sizes up talented young arms like Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland, Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison and Michael Kirkman and says if there simply is "incremental development" from everyone, "we'll be great."

"We have great arms, guys who can throw great breaking pitches and very smart younger guys," Wilson says. "It's cool."

Then there's Feliz. He's added a cut fastball this spring that was suggested by longtime baseball man Don Welke, senior special assistant to Daniels, and taught to him by pitching coach Mike Maddux. It is another weapon that could make him great as a starter. And the fact that he was receptive to learning it speaks highly of his character and competitiveness.

Eventually, possibly even by the end of this camp, Feliz will find his way into the Texas starting rotation.

Eventually, maybe even as a result of that, the Rangers will be about who's here, and Lee will become an afterthought.

"A year ago, C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis were in the what-if category," Daniels says. "They stepped up in a big way. We're going to need a couple other guys to do the same thing.

"We feel like the talent is here. Sitting here today, I couldn't tell you who it's going to be. But I like our options. I like the candidates for the job."

Yes, it's a new era for the Rangers.

"I think every organization has a different attitude toward the Texas Rangers now," Washington says. "We've got a target on our backs now. Our boys have to stay strong and healthy."


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