Scott Feldman began last season in the bullpen for the Texas Rangers. Now he's their opening day starter with a new contract after a 17-win season.
"It's an amazing story," Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells said. "His stuff has just gradually gotten better over the last few years and he can throw any pitch in any count and throw them all for strikes."
The 6-foot-7 Feldman will be on the mound and Wells, who grew up in Arlington and still lives in the area, gets to play a season opener at home when Texas hosts the Blue Jays on Monday.
Feldman went 17-8 after moving into the starting rotation three weeks into last season, his first full one in the majors. He will be only the fifth pitcher signed and developed by the Rangers to start a season opener.
"Opening day is something I always will remember," said Feldman, the 27-year-old right-hander who Friday got a new contract through 2012 worth nearly $14 million that includes a team option for 2013.
Texas won 87 games last year, then added slugger Vladimir Guerrero to the lineup and Colby Lewis and Rich Harden to the rotation this offseason. Team president and pending co-owner Nolan Ryan has repeatedly said the Rangers should win at least 92 games this season.
"I don't put any numbers on the team. At the same time, though, I appreciate the high expectations," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "I like the fact that people are expecting us to play well. I like the fact that high expectations have been placed on this team. I feel like we're going to win. We have everything in place to win."
Going into his 10th season, Young is the longest-tenured Rangers player. He was an All-Star third baseman last year after making the switch from shortstop, where he was an All-Star pick five consecutive times.
Young began his career in Toronto's organization, and was traded to Texas as a second baseman in 2000. He is still good friends with Wells, now the longest-tenured Blue Jays player beginning his 12th season and finally opening at home.
"It is special. I get five days at home, a couple of off days there," Wells said. "It will be fun and it will be my first time opening up at home, seeing that stadium packed. ... Hopefully we'll enjoy it a little more than they will."
With Roy Halladay gone after being traded to Philadelphia this winter, Wells is now seen as the unquestionable leader of a youth-laden team from which little is expected this season in the AL East.
"If we learn and you can see some of the guys improve, whether it's pitchers or whether it's a hitter, I think that's the way we want to go," manager Cito Gaston said. "That would be good for the team and the organization and the fans in Toronto, all of us."
Right-hander Shaun Marcum becomes the first pitcher in eight years other than Halladay to start a season opener for the Blue Jays. Marcum missed half of 2008 and all of last season recovering from elbow surgery.
Ryan is part of the investment group headed by Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg buying the Rangers, though the deal didn't get done by opening day as hoped.
The Greenberg-Ryan group entered into exclusive negotiations nearly four months ago, but the transfer of ownership from Tom Hicks has been complicated by the significant debt owed by Hicks' financially strapped Hicks Sports Group.
While attending the team's final spring training game Saturday, Greenberg said he anticipates the complex deal getting completed the week of April 19. That means the sale could be done by time the Rangers open their second homestand of the season.
Rangers manager Ron Washington said he's not concerned about the 19 spring losses that matched a team record or Guerrero going without a homer in 63 at-bats this spring.
The Angels didn't re-sign the 35-year-old Guerrero after he helped them win five of the last six AL West titles. The 2004 American League MVP had two stints on the disabled list last season for a torn right pectoral muscle and strained left knee.
Despite the lack of homers, Guerrero did hit .333 with 10 RBIs this spring for Texas.
"I see a guy that knows what he's doing. ... You'll see the power," Washington said. "He's having a good time, he's doing everything everybody else is doing. When Monday rolls around, he'll be ready."