ANAHEIM -- Brad Wilkerson never misses the NCAA men's basketball championship game. Never.

Until Monday.

"And it just so happens that Florida was in it," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson went to Florida, but he was much happier to be in the Ranges starting lineup for Opening Day after undergoing shoulder surgery on Aug. 22. His goal was to be 100 percent for Opening Day and he said achieved that goal. It's the first time he's been 100 percent since early in the 2005 season.

"Opening Day '05, I felt great," Wilkerson said. "I got off to a good start that year and then went downhill."

He was traded to the Rangers after the season and had a difficult year in Arlington, hitting .222 with 15 home runs and 45 RBIs before undergoing surgery. Being in the lineup on Opening Day is the beginning of the quest for redemption and validation.

"I feel like last year, being traded to a new team, that's always tough, especially when things don't go as expected," Wilkerson said. "I just want to prove to myself that I can be myself again. The fans, the staff, the front office, they haven't seen the real me. I want to show them I can do the job."

There are other things to consider. Wilkerson is also a free agent after this season, although nobody has really talked about it.

"I like it that way," Wilkerson said. "Lying in the weeds a little. But my goal is to perform for this team. I really like this ballclub and my teammates. It's just going to be fun to see if we can gel together."

Sosa over Cruz: Manager Ron Washington went with the lineup he had written down a week ago, and went with Sammy Sosa in right field on Monday. Nelson Cruz was out of the lineup but is expected to be in there on Tuesday.

Washington said the deciding factor was Sosa having a better chance against Angels right-hander John Lackey.

"I just felt like Sammy could handle the breaking ball better," Washington said. "I know people say he's not hitting the breaking ball, but I think he'll adjust. If anybody is going to be embarrassed because of Lackey, I want it to be Sammy."

Washington explained the situation to Cruz.

"I started telling him that, but he stopped me and said, 'You don't have to explain anything to me,'" Washington said. "But I did. I want his respect just as much as everybody else."

Trouble against Rangers: Kelvim Escobar pitches for the Angels on Tuesday, and he has a career record of 2-8 against the Rangers. That's a .200 winning percentage -- the fourth-lowest for any pitcher with at least 10 starts against them. Danny Darwin was 1-8 (.111 winning percentage), Matt Keough was 2-11 (.154), Fritz Peterson was 1-5 (.167) and Erik Hanson was also 2-8.

Escobar was 0-3 with a 7.16 ERA. That was the 11th-highest in one season against the Rangers for any pitcher with at least four starts against them.

Gagne throws: Eric Gagne, on the disabled list to start the season, threw 20 pitches in a Minor League game in Surprise, Ariz., without any problems. He is scheduled to pitch once more on Wednesday in extended spring, then make three appearances for Double-A Frisco. The Rangers still expect him to be ready to come off the disabled list on April 13 in Seattle.

"He just needs to get more innings and more strength in his arm," Washington said.

He said it: "I'm always optimistic, you know that. But everything feels good, notwithstanding a couple of bad pitching performances by the front of the rotation at the end of spring that got the media excited. But I'm optimistic. I feel like we're going to have a good year." -- owner Tom Hicks

Minor tidbits: News from the Rangers farm system, according to farm director Scott Servais and general manager Jon Daniels.

• Chad Tracy, who was drafted in the third round of the First-Year Player Draft as a catcher last year, will play some in left field at Triple-A Clinton. The Rangers have a glut of good young catching prospects and like Tracy's offensive potential.

• Kasey Kiker and Fabio Castillo, the pitching jewels of the lower farm system, will start the season in extended Spring Training. The Rangers want them to stay strong all year.

• Doug Mathis, who was 10-7 with a 4.18 ERA at Class A Bakersfield, is jumping to Triple-A Oklahoma. He made two starts at Double-A last season.

• Pitcher A.J. Murray will be in the Triple-A bullpen at Oklahoma. Tim Hulett, a rising star in the system, will play second at Oklahoma.

• Emerson Frostad's one-year experiment as a catcher is over. The Rangers want his bat to develop and he'll play first base at Oklahoma.

• Chris Davis, who had a big year at Spokane as a first baseman, is moving to third base for Class A Bakersfield. He was switched in the Instructional League and took to the position well.

Briefly: Washington had a 15-meeting meeting with his team before Monday's opener and told them, "Tonight doesn't make our season. Just go out and have fun. I want them to trust their preparation and do the things we've done to this point. Make sure we have each others backs." ... Washington said he'll keep and frame Monday's lineup card, his first as a Major League manager. Said Washington, "That's my lineup card, win or lose." ... Backup catcher Chris Stewart is the only rookie on the Rangers' Opening Day roster. ... All four Minor League teams open on Thursday.

Up next: Vicente Padilla makes his first start of the 2007 season for the Rangers at 9:05 p.m. CT on Tuesday when he faces the Angels in the second game of their three-game series. Padilla was 7-5 with a 4.20 ERA on the road last season.