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04/02/10 10:00 AM ET

Outlook high for Feldman, Rangers

Righty set to face Jays in first Opening Day start

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers will have long-time nemesis Vladimir Guerrero in the lineup, and Cowboys hero Roger Staubach -- on baseball's biggest holiday -- will be on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in honor of his work in bringing football's biggest game to the palace next door.

Tom Hicks will still be the owner, as the sale of the club to a group headed by Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg is still not complete.

"Hopefully [the sale will get done] by some time in April," said Nolan Ryan, who enters his third season as club president and has stated that a team that won 87 games in 2009 should win at least 92 this season.

Plus a division title.

Game time is 1:05 p.m. CT on Monday. The opponent is the Toronto Blue Jays.

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There will be a sellout crowd with all the usual festivities at the Ballpark in Arlington, which opens up its 17th season in existence while waiting for the new ownership group to install a new video scoreboard and other renovations, and for all the construction to be completed in time for the Super Bowl.

A baseball team will also be there, led by manager Ron Washington in his fourth season at the job. This 25-man unit faces some of the biggest expectations heaped on the Rangers in many years. Perhaps not since 2001, when Hicks stood next to a pool in Puerto Rico and predicted the Rangers would win a division title, have the Rangers gone into a season with such high expectations.

In past years, the buzz phrase was always to "manage expectations." There is no spin control this time, and the Rangers are not fazed by that.

"This is a confident team," said third baseman Michael Young. "The good thing is there has been no 'rah rah' about it. We've been doing it on the field, getting our work in, getting things done. We know what we need to, and we know there are good things ahead."

At the forefront of the Opening Day sellout crowd will be right-hander Scott Feldman. Just a few years ago, he was a side-arming middle reliever -- at best. Now Feldman is a 17-game winner and will be the Rangers' Opening Day starting pitcher.

"I'm excited," Feldman said. "It will be fun pitching in front of the big crowd, my family, everybody. I'm really looking forward to it."

Kevin Millwood had been the Rangers' Opening day starter for four years before being traded to the Orioles in the offseason. There was some sentiment for Rich Harden to have the honor, but the Rangers felt Feldman was the right choice.

"He deserves it," Washington said. "He had a great year last year and has thrown the ball really well this spring. He's focused, he's ready, he's our guy."

This is a first for Feldman: a first not just as the Opening Day starter but even being in the Opening Day rotation. Two seasons ago, Feldman was converted from reliever to starter at the end of Spring Training, and was supposed to learn his role at Double-A Frisco last year.

Texas Rangers
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 CF Julio Borbon
2 3B Michael Young
3 LF Josh Hamilton
4 DH Vladimir Guerrero
5 RF Nelson Cruz
6 1B Chris Davis
7 C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
8 2B Andres Blanco
9 SS Elvis Andrus
Projected rotation
1 RHP Rich Harden
2 LHP C.J. Wilson
3 RHP Scott Feldman
4 LHP Matt Harrison
5 RHP Colby Lewis
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Frank Francisco
SU LHP Darren Oliver
SU RHP Chris Ray
SU RHP Neftali Feliz
SU RHP Darren O'Day
MI RHP Doug Mathis
MI RHP Dustin Nippert
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart
Injuries changed that, just as it did last year when he opened the season in the bullpen and didn't make his first start until April 25.

But Feldman is a different pitcher than in 2008; maybe even different than he was in '09. He was once a one-trick sinkerball pitcher. Now, his arsenal is much more complete. His cut fastball busts hard and in on left-handed hitters, complementing a sinker that tails away from them.

His breaking ball has come miles, and this spring he has worked hard on a changeup. That could give him two pitches to go with his array of fastballs that he has learned to pinpoint at around 92-94 mph.

"I just know I'm trying to improve all the time and be a better pitcher than I was last season," Feldman said. "I'm not going to be satisfied with what I've already done. I want to do more and take it to the next level."

He also has 327 innings of Major League experience as a starter. Feldman knows the league, his defense and his own weapons. No matter what arm angle he has used, he has always had "good stuff." Now he has a greater arsenal of pitches and is getting a better idea of when and how to use them.

That will help him get deeper into games and help him get through opposing lineups more than three times around the order. Feldman has made 56 starts in his career, and only six times has an opposing batter faced him four times in a game.

He has pitched at least five innings in 49 of 56 starts, but has gone seven complete innings in just nine of those. He made it through eight once, but Feldman is still looking for his first complete game.

With the Rangers' lineup, an improved defense and their bullpen, six innings an outing with a 4.08 ERA might be good enough for any pitcher. Certainly, Feldman benefited from the Rangers' bullpen and defense last year, but his run support average of 5.31 runs per nine innings was only 32nd among 68 American Leaguers with at least 15 starts.

No matter what factors were in play, Feldman won 17 games last year. The Rangers will take that again. But Feldman wants to do better and believes he can do better.

Opening Day is the perfect time to start.

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