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Duel at Arlington

Angels' C.J. Wilson pitches tonight against Yu Darvish, who replaced him in Texas

May 11, 2012|Mike DiGiovanna
  • Angels starter C.J. Wilson, left, will look to outduel Texas starter Yu Darvish when the division rivals open up a three-game series in Arlington on Friday.
Angels starter C.J. Wilson, left, will look to outduel Texas starter Yu… (Nick Laham / Getty Images;…)

ARLINGTON, TEXAS — It's almost serendipitous the way it worked out, with the rotations of the teams expected to battle for American League West supremacy aligning so that Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson will face Texas right-hander Yu Darvish on Friday night in the first game between the clubs this season.

Wilson, 31, helped the Rangers reach the World Series in 2010 and 2011 and was somewhat disappointed with the team's halfhearted attempts to retain him before he signed a five-year, $77.5-million deal with the rival Angels on Dec. 8.

Why the Rangers never made a formal free-agent offer to their ace became clear a few weeks later when they spent $107 million to acquire the rights to negotiate with and then sign Darvish, the hard-throwing, 6-foot-5 Japanese sensation who replaced Wilson in the Texas rotation.

It makes for a juicy story line, Wilson facing his former teammates -- including Mike Napoli, with whom he got into a little spring-training tiff -- and trying to show the organization that drafted and helped develop him that they made a big mistake letting him go.

Wilson will have none of it, though.

"It's not emotional for me -- it's baseball, it's a sport, it's my job," said Wilson, who is 4-2 with a 2.61 earned-run average in six starts. "My job is to try to do really well, and it doesn't matter who I pitch against.... [Darvish] is the enemy of our hitters, not me.

"I try not to make too much of it because it's a tough enough task to face their lineup. You see their record, the number of home runs they hit. If you try to come up with some extreme thing [to motivate yourself], it's going to get in the way of you remembering, 'Oh yeah, I'm supposed to bounce a changeup to this guy.' "

The Rangers have baseball's most potent offense and were leading the AL in average (.293), on-base percentage (.352), slugging percentage (.480), runs (170) and hits (314) and ranked second in home runs (46) entering their doubleheader Thursday at Baltimore.

Outfielder Josh Hamilton has been a beast, and not just during Tuesday night's four-homer game against the Orioles. He entered Thursday leading the league in average (.406), OBP (.458), slugging (.840), homers (14) and runs batted in (36). (He added a two-run homer Thursday).

"That's kind of sick -- it's not human," Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said of Hamilton. "He's that good. Even as a 19-year-old youngster in spring training years ago, he was a five-tool player. Now he's polished, knows what pitch to look for and gets it done."

Adrian Beltre was hitting .319 with six homers and 17 RBIs, and the Rangers, who had a major league-best 20-10 record entering Thursday, were getting solid production from Elvis Andrus (.319), Michael Young (.308, 19 RBIs) and Ian Kinsler (.283, five homers, 17 RBIs) and Napoli (.324 OBP, seven homers, 16 RBIs).

"They've won the division the past two years because they're great hitters. I knew that," Wilson said. "The objective for me is to prevent the other team from scoring runs. I have a tall task."

So do the Angels hitters, who will get their first live look at the lean and lanky Darvish, who complements a 95-mph fastball with an array of breaking balls and off-speed pitches and is 4-1 with a 2.54 ERA in six starts, striking out 44 and walking 21 in 39 innings.

"He has a good arm and does a variety of things with the ball," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "It looks like when you get a ball to hit, you have to square it up, because he can get some pitches into some decent zones."

The Angels thought they'd be able to match the Rangers' firepower with the signing of first baseman Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240-million deal and the return of injured slugger Kendrys Morales. But they've fired blanks for much of 2012, being shut out a major league-high seven times in their first 32 games.

Pujols is off to a dreadful start, hitting .198 with one homer and 11 RBIs, and the Angels rank 11th or lower in the AL in runs, homers, OBP and slugging.

But they arrived in Texas with some momentum, winning seven of 10 games -- five against the lowly Minnesota Twins -- and stirring a bit offensively. They'll be more rested, having taken Thursday off while the Rangers played two, and they should find conditions in Texas a little more conducive to production.

"It's definitely a hitter's park," second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "I think it's going to be a great series."

Wilson, a Texas reliever for five seasons (2005-09) before moving to the rotation in 2010, isn't expecting a warm-and-fuzzy homecoming.

"We'll be playing in front of a huge crowd in a stadium that's relatively hostile to our team, and I'm sure it will be fairly hostile to me," Wilson said. "I think a lot of people will boo me. Hey, some of them booed me while I was there when I was a reliever."

Though Wilson said he has several longtime friends on the Rangers, he may not exchange man-hugs with Napoli after their Twitter exchange in March.

Wilson thought it would be funny to send Napoli a tweet saying to call him at a number that was actually an old cellphone number for Napoli, not Wilson's. Napoli didn't think that was very funny.

Wilson claimed the joke was in response to Napoli saying he wants to hit a home run against Wilson, but Napoli, of course, wants to homer against everyone.

"I'm not worried about all that off-field stuff -- I'm here to play a baseball game," Napoli said. "C.J. does what he does. I'm past that. But I will try to hit a home run off him."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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