Rangers seek a healthy Fielder and Darvish

"I'm in there," Prince Fielder said of feeling healthy enough to return to the Rangers' lineup. AP Photo/LM Otero

DALLAS – Injuries dominated the Texas Rangers' 2014 season.

They became so much of a focal point that right-handed starter Colby Lewis, a man who returned from elbow and hip surgeries, said he thought Mitch Moreland and Shin-Soo Choo played on broken ankles last season.

They didn’t, but it’s clear health was a major contributor to the team's 95 losses.

That can’t happen again in 2015 for the Rangers to contend, and two key players coming off health issues, Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish, need to be available for an entire season.

The pair spoke to reporters Friday prior to the Rangers' annual banquet.

Fielder lasted just 42 games before a pinched nerve forced him to undergo surgery. He hit just three home runs and drove in 16 -- far short of his totals in the three seasons before he arrived in Texas, during which he hit 38, 30 and 25 home runs for the Detroit Tigers.

Fielder, 30, said he's feeling good.

“I can play a pickup game right now,” he said. “I’m in there, I’m in there.”

The Rangers need Fielder to be the power hitter they missed last season. His absence placed tremendous pressure on Adrian Beltre to carry the offense. Beltre, the Rangers’ MVP, hit .324 with 77 RBIs -- though his 19 home runs were his fewest since eight in 2009.

Fielder’s return should resound through the lineup.

“It was real difficult,” said Fielder, who played in 162 games for three consecutive seasons before his injury. “I wasn’t used to missing games, so to miss a lot of the season, it was difficult at first. But I had to be an adult about it and just get back healthy to get ready for this year.”

Darvish is another story.

The right-hander missed the final month and a half of the 2014 season with inflammation in his throwing elbow. He’s throwing on flat ground now, earning the praise of pitching coach Mike Maddux, and expects to throw off a mound within the next two weeks.

“My elbow is feeling great and I’m doing the program that is provided from the team,” Darvish said through his new interpreter, Shun Ukita.

In 22 starts, Darvish pitched into the seventh inning 14 times. He was a dominant force, an ace the Rangers needed regardless of how the season was going.

While the 28-year-old is in terrific shape, he has dealt with lower-back and neck issues in the past. The elbow was never much of a problem until last year, and drama followed the injury.

Pitching through the discomfort was discussed, but the Rangers thought it was wise to shut Darvish down given where the team sat in the standings.

“It was very disappointing with the [last-place] position the team was in,” Darvish said. “We weren’t really playing well [and] it was disappointing not being with the team.”

Darvish said he has built a special gym in his house in his native Japan, and that he’s stronger and has put the lower-back issues in the past. Darvish, more than anybody on this Rangers pitching staff, understands the expectations placed on him.

It can’t be another lost season for him and Fielder.

When key players are healthy, positive results are mandatory.

If two of the Rangers' better players can't lead them, Jeff Banister’s rookie season as a manager could be painful to watch.