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02/13/09 5:08 PM EST
Staying healthy is key to Texas staff
Rangers had to place 14 pitchers on disabled list during 2008
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Reliever C.J. Wilson arrived at the Rangers complex on Friday and will throw off a mound on Saturday, one day before the first official workout for pitchers and catchers. "I've already thrown a couple times off a mound and I feel good," said Wilson, who had left elbow surgery in August. "I can already tell my control is a lot better. That's the only weak link that I've had. I feel great that I'm coming into the season 100 percent."
That's one name to check off the list.Rangers pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Saturday and the biggest question will be health after the staff was clobbered by injuries last year on the way to a 79-83 record. The Rangers had to put 14 pitchers on the disabled list last season -- including top two starters Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla -- and they can't afford to have that happen again. The Rangers officially have 31 pitchers coming to camp and the first order of business is to see who is healthy, who is not and which ones will be limited in their throwing. Two are definitely down. Eric Hurley and Joaquin Benoit are on the 40-man roster, but both had surgery in January to repair a torn rotator cuff and are likely to miss the season. Jason Jennings and Brendan Donnelly could be limited in what they do. Jennings had surgery last May to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. It's the second straight year that he's needed that surgery and the Rangers want to be careful with him. "He's certainly further along than he was last year," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. Donnelly, who agreed to a Minor League contract less than a week ago, had Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in June 2007 and made only 15 appearances for the Indians at the end of last season. He was 1-0 with an 8.56 ERA after being recalled from the Minors on Aug. 8, and the Rangers want to be careful with him as well. "We just want to make sure what kind of strength he has and make sure he's ready," Washington said. Everybody else is expected to be ready to go, including left-hander Kason Gabbard and right-hander Doug Mathis. Like Wilson, both had their season cut short by surgery. Gabbard had a bone spur removed from his elbow at the All-Star break and Mathis had surgery at the end of season on his shoulder. Two other Tommy John cases from 2007 will also be at full strength. Both Thomas Diamond, the Rangers' No. 1 Draft pick from 2004, and Willie Eyre will be competing for spots in the Rangers' bullpen without any limitations. So, too, will Derrick Turnbow, the former Brewers All-Star closer who is coming in on a Minor League contract. He has had shoulder and control problems for 2 1/2 years but is expected in at full strength. Another key pitcher to watch is Brandon McCarthy and his myriad of health concerns. In the past two years, he has been dealing with blisters, a stress fracture in his shoulder blade, severe elbow inflammation and a strained ligament in his middle finger. That's limited him to 27 starts the past two years, but he's already here in Surprise and ready to compete for a spot in the rotation. "It's time for us to get our share out of him," Washington said. "If he's healthy, he'll perform." The one guy the Rangers were worried was going to get hurt last year and never did is also ready to go as well. Scott Feldman said he's 100 percent after throwing a career-high 164 innings in 2008, more than double his previous high as a professional. The Rangers kept trying to shut him down at the end of last season to limit his innings but never could because other pitchers kept getting hurt. Feldman, after being converted from a reliever, ended up being the Rangers' most reliable starter even if his number of innings were higher than anticipated. "Anytime you bump up somebody's innings you might get concern but I was the only one who knew how I felt," Feldman said. "I feel perfectly fine. Playing catch my arm feels better than it did last season. In  I also threw in the Arizona Fall League. This year I had a whole off-season and now, throwing off the mound and playing catch, I feel good." The Rangers need a lot of guys to stay that way.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.