The Texas Rangers are coming out of the All-Star break chasing for the first time in four seasons.
While the Rangers expect a boost from the return of several injured players in the next week, general manager Jon Daniels said Thursday that he would like to upgrade the team. Asked if that meant trying to add a starting pitcher or right-handed bat before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, Daniels said those were possibilities though he didn't discuss specifics.
"Our goal is a lot bigger than just being in a good position," said Daniels, adding that the Rangers are initiating most of the calls being made. "You could really go both ways, and we're having active conversations on both fronts. I don't know sitting here right now exactly where it's going to head."
Among the potential targets for the Rangers (54-41), who trail Oakland by two games in the AL West, could be Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Garza and White Sox outfielder Alex Rios, among others.
Utility player Jeff Baker, who has been outstanding against left-handers, and speedy outfielder Craig Gentry are both expected to be activated from the disabled list before Friday night's game against Baltimore. Yu Darvish threw a bullpen session Thursday and will like start against the New York Yankees on Monday night. Alexi Ogando could return the next night.
"We're going to activate two right-handed hitters (Friday) and then hopefully activate two starting pitchers next week," Daniels said. "So that will go a long way toward bringing us back to where we want to be."
There are 67 games left in the regular season. Not in first place out of the break for the first time since 2009, when they last missed the playoffs before consecutive World Series appearances, here are some things to watch for the Rangers:
HURTING HURLERS: Of the majors-high 10 players the Rangers have on the disabled list, six are starting pitchers. All-Star right-hander Yu Darvish (8-4), the major league strikeout leader with 157, is expected back Monday night after what in essence was only one missed start because of a right trapezius strain. Alexi Ogando is on the DL for the second time this season. But opening day starter Matt Harrison made only two starts in April before surgery twice on a herniated disk in his lower back, and Colby Lewis is still rehabbing from surgery last July to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow. Nick Tepesch, one of three rookies who have made a combined 39 starts for Texas, is also on the disabled list. The Rangers still have a 3.73 team ERA, second-best in the American League.
NEEDING NELLIE: All-Star right-fielder Nelson Cruz leads the Rangers with 22 home runs and 69 RBIs. It seems more likely now that the slugger eligible for free agency this offseason will be able to remain in the Texas lineup all season. Cruz is among more than a dozen MLB players under investigation for ties to Biogenesis, a closed anti-aging clinic in Florida linked with the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs. The baseball players' association said this week that any suspensions resulting from the sport's latest drug investigation likely won't be served until next year if the discipline is challenged before an arbitrator.
MANNY BEING A RANGER?: Manny Ramirez signed a minor league deal with Texas earlier this month, cut his long dreadlocks and hit three home runs in his first eight games for Triple-A Round Rock. Could the 41-year-old Ramirez, a 12-time All-Star and .312 lifetime hitter with 555 career home runs, be an option down the stretch? General manager Jon Daniels said it's still premature to say. Since Ramirez hasn't played in the majors since April 2011 with Tampa Bay, the Rangers want him to keep getting at-bats in the minors for now. "From a clubhouse perspective and a teammate, it's been very positive reports," Daniels said. "We knew when we signed him we were going to give him a few weeks minimum to really let him settle in, and make an evaluation, see where he is and if there's a spot here and whether he can help us. Those are still two things we are evaluating. "
WINNING WASH: Before getting hired by the Texas Rangers seven years ago, longtime Oakland third-base coach Ron Washington's only managerial experience was two seasons for a Class A South Atlantic League team two decades ago. Now he needs only eight more wins to overtake Bobby Valentine for the most by a Rangers manager. Washington has a 574-493 record in regular season games, and took Texas to its only World Series appearances (2010 and 2011). Only Valentine has managed more Texas games (1,186 from 1985-92).