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02/17/07 2:00 PM ET

Hungry Rangers get started at camp

First full-squad team workout scheduled for Feb. 23

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- First, a word about the weather.


As of 10 a.m. CT on Saturday morning, it was 67 degrees at Surprise Stadium, with blue skies and not a cloud anywhere to obscure the sweeping views of the mountains encircling the Valley of the Sun.

Inside the Rangers clubhouse, sunshine also reigns for a team that was 80-82 and finished in third place (again) in the American League West.

Rangers pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Saturday and unbridled optimism continues to flow.

"I think everybody has seen the changes made and knows this is a different team than in the past," pitcher Kevin Millwood said. "Everybody in here expects us to contend and play well. I know there were a couple of years when I was in a different place that I didn't feel that way."

The Rangers must first settle some position battles here in the desert. There is going to be fierce competition for the few open spots on the Rangers' pitching staff.

Even the size of that pitching staff is unknown. Manager Ron Washington said he is undecided if the Rangers will go with an 11- or 12-man pitching staff.

"We'll determine that at the end of the spring," Washington said. "I think the schedule and injuries will determine whether we go with 11 or 12."

A 12-man staff appears more likely. It's been many years since the Rangers have been able to go for an extended period of time with just 11 pitchers.

If it is a 12-man staff, there are probably just four spots open.

Millwood, Vicente Padilla and Brandon McCarthy are locked into the starting rotation. Robinson Tejeda goes into camp as the fourth starter after going 4-2 with a 2.32 ERA in his last nine starts.

"I see Tejeda penciled into the fourth spot based on what he did last year," Washington said. "He's going to get that chance."

That leaves the wide-open fifth spot with a minimum of eight candidates: right-handers Josh Rupe, Kameron Loe, Edinson Volquez, Jamey Wright and Francisco Cruceta and left-handers John Koronka, John Rheinecker and Bruce Chen.

The bullpen has three spots open. Eric Gagne and Akinori Otsuka have the back end locked down and C.J. Wilson and Ron Mahay are expected to be on the team as the left-handed setup relievers.

That likely leaves three spots for right-handed setup relievers and there are a minimum of eight candidates for those spots: Rick Bauer, Joaquin Benoit, Wes Littleton, Frank Francisco, Scott Feldman, Willie Eyre, Franklyn German and Mike Wood.

Both Loe and Rupe could be considered for the bullpen if they are not in the rotation.

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"It's going to be very challenging," Washington said. "We have some tough decisions to make."

The competition starts Sunday with the first workout. Of the 31 pitchers coming to camp, only Minor League reliever Jose Vargas is expected to be missing. He is still getting his visa after being a last-minute addition to the spring roster.

Padilla was delayed in Nicaragua because of an illness in the family, but Washington said he is expected to arrive in Arizona on Saturday night.

Minor League pitchers Omar Beltre and Alexi Ogando remain in the Dominican Republic due to visa problems and are not expected to be in camp. Left-hander A.J. Murray, who is coming off shoulder surgery, is likely to be the only one limited in camp.

Gagne, who had back surgery last season and Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2005, is expected to be at full strength, but Washington said the Rangers will obviously be cautious with him.

"He'll do everything that everybody else does," Washington said. "But being the bulldog that he is, we're going to hold the reins back on him."

The Rangers expect 56 total players for the first full-squad workout. That includes Sammy Sosa, who is in camp on a Minor League contract, on Friday.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.