Rangers facing their former aces Darvish, Hamels with Cubs

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Texas Rangers are about to face a pair of their former aces, Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, in consecutive games against the Chicago Cubs.

“That will be unique,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “It will be a good challenge for our guys because they’re both so talented and it’s fun to see our guys play against the best.”

While Darvish and Hamels will pitch during the opening series in the ballpark they used to call home, their former team is going through quite a rotation reclamation. The Rangers have four new starters, three of them coming off Tommy John surgery in 2017 — the last season Darvish and Hamels were in Texas together.

Darvish made his big league debut with Texas in 2012 after playing seven pro seasons at home in Japan. He will start against the Rangers on Saturday in the second game of the series after Jon Lester made his third consecutive opening-day start for the Cubs in a 12-4 victory Thursday.

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Hamels, who started openers for the Rangers in 2016 and 2018, is set for the series finale Sunday.

“I grew up in Japan, but at the same time I feel I grew up here too,” Darvish said. “This stadium has a lot of history, and I’m so happy to throw here.”

The right-hander was 52-39 with a 3.42 ERA in 122 starts for the Rangers before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2017 and went to the World Series. He became a free agent and signed a six-year deal with the Cubs.

Texas acquired Hamels from Philadelphia in July 2015, when Darvish was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The lefty was 38-21 with a 3.90 ERA in 88 starts in Texas, and was traded to Chicago last July.

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“Pitching in this ballpark matters,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The ball flies here pretty well, and these guys know about all that, so you have to make your pitches. You have to pitch inside, you have to be assertive and not get in bad counts. … Having pitched here, I think it will help them a lot.”

Darvish is matched up Saturday night against Edinson Volquez, set to make his first start for the Rangers since 2007.

Volquez returned to Texas as a free agent and spent last year rehabbing from his surgery that he had while with Miami. The 35-year-old right-hander was a teenager when he originally signed with the Rangers as an amateur free agent in October 2001. He made his big league debut in 2005 and was traded to Cincinnati two years later for Josh Hamilton.

Lance Lynn makes his Texas debut Sunday after signing a $30 million, three-year contract. The right-hander was 21-18 with a 4.04 ERA in 64 games with St. Louis, Minnesota and the New York Yankees the past two seasons after returning from Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss 2016.

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Drew Smyly and Shelby Miller, the other newcomers who had surgery in 2017, are set to start next week against the Houston Astros.

“I kind of step back and look at them individually,” Daniels said. “If health was the No. 1 priority, you’ve got to feel good about it. It’s still something we’ve got to monitor. I don’t think you’re ever out of the woods with somebody who’s had a prior issues, but really have a lot of confidence in our medical team to manage it.”