Monday, April 6, 2015

A's unveil new faces against healthy Prince, Rangers

The Oakland A's enter 2015 with a roster vastly altered from a year ago, and they officially introduce this latest version of themselves by hosting the Texas Rangers, who only wanted to be themselves last year but simply weren't healthy enough to do it.
When the two American League West rivals square off on Monday night at O.co Coliseum, both will have built up plenty of anticipation about the season ahead, and the A's have a bit of history to address right off the bat. They enter the opener with a Major League-record streak of 10 consecutive Opening Day losses, having been shut out five times since their last victory in Game No. 1 of 162, beating the Rangers at Oakland in 2004.
For Texas, the big news is that stars Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo will be on the field Monday after each missed significant portions of 2014. However, the 2015 Rangers will be without right-hander Yu Darvish, who underwent Tommy John surgery, so it won't be their ace on the mound to start the season.
Instead, Yovani Gallardo will make his first start for the Rangers and his sixth straight Opening Day start dating through his time with the Milwaukee Brewers. He'll be pitted against one of the rising stars who remains with the A's after their offseason of change -- right-hander Sonny Gray, making his second consecutive Opening Day start.
Gray represents part of the continuity that remains on the A's roster, which saw six 2014 All-Stars head elsewhere. After a brilliant debut late in 2013, Gray was outstanding through 33 starts last year, posting a 3.08 ERA and 183 strikeouts while going 14-10. He's the first A's starter to make back-to-back Opening Day outings since Barry Zito (2005-06).
The A's, with veteran skipper Bob Melvin at the helm, are coming off three straight postseason appearances after losing last year's AL Wild Card Game to the Royals, but they have a lot of new faces. Versatile Ben Zobrist will start off in right field with Josh Reddick on the shelf, the tandem of Billy Butler and Ike Davis will be manning first base and DH, and there are several other newcomers to the A's roster.
The Rangers, meanwhile, will mark their seventh different Opening Day starter in the last seven years, and Gallardo will be alongside several players the Rangers missed terribly last year. At the top of that list, Fielder played just 42 games before season-ending neck surgery spelled doom for the Rangers, who finished fifth in the AL West after placing first or second each of the previous six years.
Texas, under the leadership of debut manager Jeff Banister, will be looking for its first road Opening Day victory since 2003. Elvis Andrus is making a franchise-record seventh straight start at shortstop, and Adrian Beltre returns to man third base for a fifth season following a strong campaign as by far the injury-depleted team's best offensive threat.

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