ROUND ROCK, Texas -- Rangers president and CEO Nolan Ryan didn't predict a third consecutive American League West division title Monday night.
Well, not really.
Ryan, who was in Round Rock for the Rangers' exhibition game against the Triple-A Express on Monday night after a month in Arizona at Spring Training -- he has ownership in both teams -- addressed a number of topics in a pregame interview session with the media.
That included several questions on the budding Rangers-Angels rivalry -- the two-time defending AL champions have won back-to-back division titles after the Angels won three straight. The Angels had two mega free-agent acquisitions in the offseason, with slugger Albert Pujols and former Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson joining an already formidable foe.
While he respects those moves, Ryan didn't concede anything to the Rangers' division rivals.
"The Angels have stepped up and helped themselves," Ryan said. "It's going to be a tough division for us. They are very competitive, and it will come down to who stays healthiest. They have real strong pitching, so we know we have our work cut out for us.
"It should make it interesting. It should make it a good rivalry. I'm looking forward to it. I still think we have the best ballclub."
There are several things going on with his own team that hang more on Ryan's mind, like the decision to play pending free agent Josh Hamilton in center field the majority of the time this season. Ryan said the move is the best thing for the ballclub, and has nothing to do with whether or not Hamilton's future remains in Texas.
"[Center field is] where he wants to be," Ryan said. "It's where he is happiest. It's where his focus is. He'll be fine there."
Ryan said having manager Ron Washington beginning his sixth season gives the Rangers an advantage in dealing with all their players, including Hamilton, who enters his fifth season in Texas.
Washington has a feel for when to move Hamilton to left field, have him DH or give him a day off, Ryan said.
"The fact that Ron has had him as long as he's had," Ryan said, "And that's the case with a lot of these guys now -- is good. He has a real feel for this team."
Ryan was asked about the quiet offseason the Rangers had -- at least compared to the Angels -- and he semi-scoffed at that notion, noting that the Rangers doled out $107 million to a marquee free-agent pitcher, Japanese sensation Yu Darvish.
Darvish had a Ryan-like 11 strikeouts in his latest spring start against Colorado, striking out Rockies All-Stars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki a combined six times. Darvish has a 3.60 ERA this spring.
Ryan likes what he has seen from the hard-throwing right-hander.
"He has a good feel for pitching," Ryan said. "He tried to make some adjustments. Each start he had he worked on things. I saw improvement. I thought that was a positive."
The Rangers won't put any expectations on Darvish, who was paid ace-like money.
"We don't have any numbers we're putting with him," Ryan said. "We think he'll pitch in the rotation and he should pitch a lot of innings. I think he's at the point in his career where he's accustomed to throwing 200-plus innings. Somewhere in that neighborhood, I think, would be the expectations."
The Rangers and Angels will play the first of 19 regular-season games against each other on May 11 in Arlington.
Is this the Wild West's version of Yankees-Red Sox?
"Are we the West Coast version of it?" Ryan said. "I don't know. I don't think a lot about it. Obviously, the fact that we've won the division the last two years and they felt like they had a lock on that. [Angels owner] Arte [Moreno] stepped up and tried to do something about it.
"It will be good for our division and baseball, and it's going to stimulate more interest, obviously, with Pujols and C.J. over there."
Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.