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Rangers unsure when Yu can return to hill

Still slated to start opener, Darvish needs more prep, but dealing with stiff neck

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Yu Darvish is still scheduled to pitch for the Rangers on Opening Day. The Rangers just aren't sure how much throwing he'll be able to do before then.

Darvish is dealing with stiffness in his neck, and according to the club, there has been some improvement since he was scratched from Friday's start in a Minor League game.

But the problem still lingers, and right now the Rangers don't know when Darvish will be able to get back on the mound. Texas opens the season a week from Monday against the Phillies at Globe Life Park.

"We've still got a little time," manager Ron Washington said. "Hopefully in a couple of days this will clear up and we can set our plans."

Darvish has not pitched since March 16 when he threw 84 pitches against the White Sox. He was supposed to get to 100 pitches on Friday in a Minor League game, but he was scratched because of the stiffness he said was caused by sleeping wrong.

His next start would fall on Wednesday against the Mariners. That's the Rangers' last day in Arizona before they break camp. They play the Quintana Roo Tigers from the Mexican League on Thursday, and then have two games against the Astros on Friday and Saturday in San Antonio. Next Sunday is a mandatory day off.

Wednesday is the last day Darvish could make a full start and pitch on Opening Day with his normal four days' rest. The Rangers are not optimistic Darvish will be ready to pitch before they leave Arizona. After Wednesday, Darvish would likely have to do his work in a bullpen session. Washington said there is a possibility Darvish could pitch one or two innings against the Astros in San Antonio.

"We've got to wait and see how this issue progresses," Washington said. "If it stays around, we'll go with our contingency plan."

Right now, the Rangers have identified only two other pitchers in their rotation: Tanner Scheppers and Martin Perez. Robbie Ross, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hanson and Joe Saunders are competing for the other two spots, and the Rangers are holding off making any final decisions about their rotation until they know what's going on with Darvish.

Saunders started on Sunday against the Padres. Perez is scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game on Monday, with Ryan Feierabend starting the Cactus League game against the Athletics. Ross will pitch against the Indians on Tuesday in Goodyear, Ariz., and Lewis is scheduled to pitch on Wednesday against the Mariners.

That would put Lewis in line to pitch on Opening Day with four days' rest. But that's highly unlikely. Lewis, who hasn't pitched in the Major Leagues since July 18, 2012, while recovering from flexor tendon and hip replacement surgery, only threw 57 pitches in his last outing. He'll likely need to pitch against the Mariners and one more game somewhere else to get up to 90-100 pitches.

So Darvish remains scheduled to pitch on Opening Day. But it's hardly a sure thing at this point, because the Rangers don't know when he'll be able to resume throwing.

"Until he's clear of this thing, we don't have him inked into a game," assistant general manager Thad Levine said.

Darvish is not the only member of the Rangers' projected Opening Day lineup whose status is uncertain. Shin-Soo Choo had been limited to designated-hitter duty while dealing with a sore left elbow, but he started in left field on Sunday against the Padres. He is on a throwing program and hadn't played the outfield since March 12. Choo said he expects to be in left on Opening Day.

Elvis Andrus is also on a throwing program while dealing with soreness in his elbow. He is able to take batting practice and be used at DH, but he is not expected to play shortstop until next weekend in San Antonio. Mitch Moreland, who has been sidelined with tightness in his left oblique muscle, is scheduled to play in a Minor League game on Sunday night and is hoping to play in a Cactus League game on Monday.

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