SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Jeff Banister has plenty of time to worry about whether Prince Fielder and Shin Soo-Choo will be healthy, productive hitters again, or if ace Yu Darvish and left-hander Derek Holland can lift the Rangers out of last place in the AL West.
The first-year Texas manager was simply looking forward to being in charge of a big-league workout for the first time Saturday after 29 years in the Pittsburgh organization as a player, coach and instructor at all levels.
“I get to wake up, come downstairs and be excited,” Banister said. “I’ll put that uniform on and feel like I am the luckiest guy on the planet.”
Coming off four straight 90-win seasons that extended past the regular 162 games and included consecutive trips to the World Series, the Rangers bottomed out quickly last season, using a major league-record 64 players because of injuries. Texas was an AL-worst 67-95.
The Rangers also went through 40 pitchers, and Darvish is the one most likely to stabilize the staff if he can stay healthy atop the rotation. The right-hander, who didn’t pitch after Aug. 9 because of elbow inflammation, threw a bullpen session Saturday.
“He’s right where he needs to be and ready to go,” general manager Jon Daniels said.
Holland, who missed five months because of left knee surgery after tripping over his dog just before camp was to open last year, returned at the end of the season to go 2-0 with a 1.46 in six appearances, including five starts.
“I know it pained him not to be able to pitch sooner to right the ship last season,” Daniels said.
Texas did get some bad news even before spring training started.
The Rangers were hopeful second baseman Jurickson Profar’s decision to skip right shoulder surgery last season would give him a chance to fulfill his promise as a former top prospect. Instead, Profar could miss his second straight season because the switch-hitter’s throwing shoulder wouldn’t heal, and the 22-year-old is set for a procedure Monday.
“The last thing anyone in the organization wants is to lose a player to injury on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 or Day 37,” Banister said. “Day 1 is about having a slow heartbeat, really controlling what you need to control.”
Injuries ruined 2014 for last year’s two big additions in Fielder, the first baseman, and Choo, who is moving from left field to right. Fielder had missed only one game the previous five seasons but played only 42 games before neck surgery in May. Choo dealt with nagging injuries much of the year and hit .242 before operations late on his left elbow and left ankle.
With three weeks left in a lost season, manager Ron Washington resigned unexpectedly for personal reasons. Banister was chosen over Tim Bogar, who went 14-8 as interim manager.
“It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately industry,” Daniels said. “We weren’t very good last year, and that’s the taste we left in people’s mouths. I get it. We’ve got some questions, if you’re on the outside looking in.”
The Rangers tried to bolster their rotation by trading for Yovani Gallardo, a Fort Worth high school product who had an 89-64 record with a 3.69 ERA in eight years with Milwaukee. Ross Detwiler came in a deal with Washington, where the left-hander was a reliever but wanted to start and will get that chance in Texas.
A year ago, the Rangers were a popular pick to win their division for the third time in five years. That’s not the case now with so many questions, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in Banister’s eyes.
“There is an edge,” the 51-year-old manager said. “It’s the collective edge that probably means the most to me. You talk to all the guys in the clubhouse, and that’s really what has driven them all season long and gotten them to this point.”
Banister has a little something to prove as well.