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Opening Day is here for the Rangers: What to expect in the next six months

Photo: Kelly Gavin/Texas Rangers

Opening Day is here for the Rangers: What to expect in the next six months

The Rangers ended their Spring camp Tuesday and begin their 2021 quest Thursday in Kansas City. Texas completed Spring Training 14-12-3, but the real question is, are the Rangers ready for the regular season?

“I think we set out to do a lot of things, [and] we accomplished a lot of them. But in no shape or form are we a finished product, I don’t think anybody ever is,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward told me after Tuesday’s exhibition.

Kyle Gibson takes the bump on Thursday against the Royals. It’ll be Gibson’s first Opening Day assignment in his career, and it comes against the opponent Gibson faced the most in his MLB career. [Kauffman Stadium] is probably one of my favorite places to pitch. It’s the team I made my debut against and [I’ve] pitched quite a bit at the “K,” Kyle said. Thursday’s start will be Kyle’s twelfth career at Kauffman Stadium (tied for the most starts in an opposing ballpark). It’ll be the first regular-season game the Rangers play with fans in the stands since Globe Life Park’s final game against the Yankees in 2019. Early last month, the Royals announced a limited capacity of 10,000 fans at Kauffman Stadium.

For others, it was a different preparation in Spring Training. Players like Leody Taveras and Eli White, who got their first taste last season, changed the way they prepared for 2021 because of those experiences.

“I think it’s helpful. I got to play last year and got my feet wet,” Eli told me. “Having some struggles out there too last year is going to help me just to know that I learned some things about working through some tough situations.” For Taveras, he looked at it as a confidence booster. “My preparation was different because I got a little taste last year, and I got more confidence,” Leody said. “That’s helped me and made him work even harder in the offseason.”

With the recall of Kolby Allard, the Rangers completed their full twenty-six-man roster. While the injuries did pile up, many non-roster guys competed and had good springs, which is a significant development. I wouldn’t stretch out and say the Rangers had the best Spring in years, but the club is on a mission to prove the world wrong. They’ll get their first shot Thursday against the Royals.

Three things to expect in 2021

Patience: Look, let me be honest. It’s going to be a somber 2021 when looking at the standings. The Rangers may have a good April combining the freshness of players with the decent schedule. However, come All-Star break-wise, there’ll be tough days. Although I hope the Rangers prove me wrong, there is a sense of the 2019 start that keeps popping up in my brain. What Woodward told me about his team, it’s the unity that brings them together. “As long as the mentality and togetherness are there, they can depend on one another, trust one another, and we’re going to have fun doing it,” Woodward added, “This is a gritty group that loves the grind. They enjoy the difficulty that comes with this game, and that’s what I’m most excited about.”

Young talent showcasing in front of fans: Nine Rangers made their debuts in 2020. Those nine players got the privilege of stepping on a big-league field, looking up and seeing lifeless expressions in the stands or just empty seats. In 2021 five of those guys (and Jonah Heim, who made his debut for Oakland last year) get to enter the big stage in front of fans, rooting for or against them. It’s almost like a second big league debut for them. It’ll be intriguing if these guys embrace the atmosphere or if the nerves kick in.

A lot of pitching maneuvering: While the rotation is semi-set with who starts, the two back-half tandems aren’t confirmed (we formed a specific hypothesis based on when pitchers last pitched). That rotation set will probably not last long. The good news is that a couple of left-handed bullpen arms will come back in April, but the downside is Jose Leclerc’s season is over, and Jonathan Hernandez won’t be ready for a while.

For Mike Foltynewicz, he came into Spring not knowing what to expect. Now, he feels that he nearly completed what he wanted to this Spring. “I just wanted the [velocity] to be back. We hit everything on the nose that we needed to hit,” Foltynewicz said to me. “I wanted the slider to be back at (85-89 MPH range) where I had it in 2018.”

Finally, we’ll see how Kohei Arihara fares in the United States compared to Japan, not just with the big league hitters but the entire six-month work schedule.

Rest assured, I think we can all agree that it’s just great to have baseball back on a daily/nightly basis. Let’s grasp on Opening weekend to prepare for the Rangers’ home opener Monday against the Toronto Blue Jays. No more waiting, baseball is here.

Credentialed Media Staff Writer covering the Texas Rangers for Dallas Sports Fanatic | 2014 University of North Texas graduate with a Bachelor's in Radio, Television, and Film. I talk about things. Find me on the tweeter @aplinckTX

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