First-time skip­per Wood­ward in­her­its young Rangers team

Houston Chronicle - - PRO BASEBALL - By Stephen Hawkins

AR­LING­TON — The Texas Rangers are not only young, with all those 20-some­thing po­si­tion play­ers, they go into spring train­ing with a first-time man­ager and mi­nus re­tired third base­man Adrian Bel­tre.

Chris Wood­ward has never been a man­ager. But the 42-year-old for­mer util­ity in­fielder spent the last three sea­sons as third­base coach for the Dodgers, who have some­thing in com­mon with the Rangers.

Los An­ge­les lost in the World Se­ries the past two years. The last team to do that was Texas, which hasn’t won an­other play­off se­ries since its back-to-back AL pen­nants in 2010 and 2011. The Rangers are com­ing off con­sec­u­tive los­ing sea­sons for the first time since 2008.

“I’m not re­ally putting any lim­i­ta­tions or ex­pec­ta­tions on this team,” Wood­ward said. “My goal is to not have a team that’s go­ing to sneak up on peo­ple. Maybe this year we will, be­cause the ex­pec­ta­tions around the league are not high. … These play­ers want to win, and I’m not go­ing to sit here and tell them that they can’t.”

The Rangers had seven po­si­tion play­ers 25 or younger play at least 106 games last sea­son. Six are back, in­clud­ing slug­ger Joey Gallo as a full-time out­fielder af­ter con­sec­u­tive 40-homer sea­sons.

No­mar Mazara, only 23, has hit ex­actly 20 homers in each of his three sea­sons. The right fielder missed a month late last sea­son with a sprained right thumb. He avoided surgery and said the thumb is bet­ter with the ex­tended off­sea­son rest.

“My main thing is stay healthy. I think I can do a lot of dam­age out there,” he said.

New look: Be­sides a new man­ager, the Rangers also have a re­vamped start­ing ro­ta­tion with lone re­turner Mike Mi­nor and four pitch­ers who have had Tommy John surgery. Switch-hit­ting As­drubal Cabr­era, a two-time All-Star short­stop for Cleve­land early in his 12-sea­son ca­reer, has been at third base for only 52 of his 1,426 big league starts. Those starts at third came the last two years for the Phillies and Mets.

They’re set: With Mi­nor and free-agent ad­di­tion Lance Lynn, the Rangers have their top two ro­ta­tion spots filled. Mi­nor led the Rangers in starts (28), wins (12), in­nings pitched (157) and strike­outs (132) last sea­son, when he was closely mon­i­tored in his re­turn to the ro­ta­tion. The for­mer Braves starter missed two full years be­cause of a torn labrum and was a full-time re­liever for the Roy­als in 2017. Since miss­ing 2016 af­ter Tommy John surgery, Lynn has gone 21-18 with a 4.04 ERA in 64 games for the Car­di­nals, Twins and Yan­kees.

They’re not: While the Rangers have pitch­ers ex­pected to fill out the rest of ro­ta­tion, all are com­ing off Tommy John surgery. Drew Smyly hasn’t pitched since 2016. Edin­son Volquez re­turned to the team last year to go through his re­hab. Shelby Miller, who had surgery in May 2017, was shelved in mid-July with right el­bow in­flam­ma­tion af­ter only four starts for Ari­zona.

Rookie to watch: Yo­han­der Men­dez, a 24-year-old lefty, could be a start­ing op­tion if all of the sur­gi­cally re­paired pitch­ers don’t make it through the sea­son.

Jamie Squire / Getty Im­ages

Texas slug­ger Joey Gallo is eye­ing a third con­sec­u­tive 40-homer sea­son.

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