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Darvish scratched from start in Minors game

Stiff neck not believed to be serious, as Texas expects ace to pitch on Opening Day

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For the second straight spring, Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish is dealing with some stiffness in his neck, and he was scratched from Friday's start in a Minor League game.

Darvish said this time the stiffness isn't as bad as what he experienced last year and he is still expected to start for the Rangers on Opening Day, March 31, against the Phillies. Darvish said the problem came up after he "slept wrong" two nights ago and it is not related to the back problems he had at the end of last season.

"In another two or three days, it will be gone and I will be able to pitch in my next outing," Darvish said.

"If a guy says something wrong and you try to push him out there, and something happens, well, that's something you could have prevented," manager Ron Washington said. "That's why you err on the side of caution. We've got to get him right."

Darvish was scheduled to throw 90-100 pitches on Friday and then 60 on Wednesday in his last start of the spring against either the Mariners or in a Minor League game. The Rangers want him to be ready to throw 100 pitches in a game by Opening Day.

"I've covered almost everything I wanted to cover here in Spring Training," Darvish said. "As far as a setback, I don't think there will be any."

Darvish was scheduled to pitch in the Minor League game so that Tanner Scheppers could start in the Cactus League game against the Brewers. The Rangers are evaluating the possibility of Scheppers moving into the rotation.

Darvish has made four starts this spring and is 2-0 with a 3.68 ERA. He has allowed 14 hits and four walks while striking out eight in 14 2/3 innings.

"It has been a good spring for him," Washington said. "He has been working on some things and he has been having success with it. He has been using it as an opportunity to make his stuff better. He'll be ready for Opening Day."

Darvish had stiffness in his neck last spring and was sidelined from March 11-23. But he was able to make two starts before the end of Spring Training and opened the season as the Rangers' No. 2 starter behind Matt Harrison. Darvish came within one out of throwing a perfect game against the Astros in his first regular-season start and was 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA in his first nine starts through May 16. He finished the season with a record of 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA and a league-leading 277 strikeouts.

The Rangers have three players sidelined who are projected to be on their Opening Day roster. Designated hitter Mitch Moreland has been dealing with a tight oblique muscle but is taking batting practice and could be ready as early as Sunday. Shortstop Elvis Andrus still has some elbow soreness and is scheduled to be examined by Dr. Keith Meister. He had an MRI earlier this week and no structural damage was detected. Left fielder Shin-Soo Choo is also dealing with a sore left elbow and remains limited to DH duty.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger.

Texas Rangers, Yu Darvish