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Saunders, Daniels discuss Saunders' new one-year deal

ARLINGTON -- Joe Saunders had an abbreviated Spring Training for the Rangers and his final Cactus League numbers weren't exactly glittering.

Saunders insists he's ready to go and the Rangers feel likewise. Saunders will get his first start of the season when he faces the Rays in the first of a three-game series on Friday night at Tropicana Field.

"The first start of the year," Saunders said. "I just want to get off to a good start and give my team a chance to win."

Saunders will be opposed by right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who was acquired from the Royals on Dec. 9, 2012, in a seven-player trade involving James Shields. Two years earlier, the Royals acquired him from the Brewers in a six-player trade that sent pitcher Zack Greinke to Milwaukee.

Odorizzi won the fifth starter spot with the Rays in Spring Training while competing against veteran Erik Bedard and reliever Cesar Ramos. Odorizzi had a 4.24 ERA while opponents hit .250 off him. Odorizzi relies mainly on a fastball that is clocked at 90-92 mph, but has been working hard on developing a better changeup.

Both Odorizzi and Saunders are in their teams' rotations because of injuries to other pitchers. Odorizzi found an opening after Jeremy Hellickson underwent elbow surgery in June to have loose bodies removed and will be out until June.

"I'm real excited," Odorizzi said. "It's my first start of the year. It's an exciting time to get out there and really get going. Just going to go out there and throw my game just like I did in the spring and hopefully give us a chance to win."

Saunders was signed by the Rangers on March 5, two weeks after the beginning of Spring Training. The Rangers were looking for starting pitching depth after Derek Holland underwent surgery in January to repair torn cartilage in his left knee.

Saunders had an 11.37 ERA in four games in Spring Training. He allowed seven runs on eight hits and two walks over 4 1/3 innings in his last outing against the Astros on Saturday in San Antonio. But that game was played in the Alamodome, a football facility not friendly to pitchers when converted to baseball.

"His last outing in San Antonio, there were a lot of positives if you don't look at the results," manager Ron Washington said. "His fastball was more firm than his previous outings and he had better changeup and a sharper breaking ball. He just needs to be himself and get outs. That's what he has been doing his whole career. I don't want him trying to do anything to impress anybody but himself and the Tampa Bay Rays."

Rangers: Andrus enjoys facing Rays
Elvis Andrus has a .317 career batting average against the Rays. It's the 11th highest among active players with at least 50 plate appearance against them and it's his third highest against any American League team. He has a .371 average against the Indians and .329 against the Angels.

Prince Fielder has a .313 average against the Rays, 14th best among active players with at least 50 at-bats. His .416 on-base percentage against them is seventh best. Joakim Soria's 4.96 career ERA against the Rays is his highest against any AL team except his former club, the Royals. He has three blown saves against them, his second most against any team. He has five against the Indians.

Rays: First Rangers, then the road
The Rays three-game series with the Rangers closes out a seven-game homestand to start the season. They play 19 of their next 26 after the Rangers on the road. The Rays also play 24 of their first 27 games against teams that did not make the playoffs last season.

The one playoff team is the Reds. They lost to the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game. The Rays also play the Rangers, Royals, Yankees and Orioles in those 27 games. All four had winning records last year. The Rangers didn't make the playoffs because they lost to the Rays in the Wild Card tie-breaker.

Worth noting:
• Shin-Soo Choo is 2-for-4 against Odorizzi. He is the only Rangers player to have ever faced him.

• Rays general manager Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon are in their ninth season together. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington have been together for eight seasons, the two longest tenures in the American League.

• The Rangers picked up backup catcher Robinson Chirinos last year from the Rays. The Rangers are 4-0 in his four starts the past two seasons.

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