"Every year you have high expectations, for yourself and for the team. But we've added a lot of quality people to our club and quality players. The way our roster is shaping up, we should be one of the favorites to win the division."Confidence, energy and passion carry you only so far. Rare is the new manager who doesn't come off that way. Washington knows that as well as anybody. There are other areas of concern that will be addressed in his first spring as manager. "It's important that we tighten up our fundamentals and it's important that we are a team that pitches and catches the ball," Washington said. "That's where our focus needs to be. If we can do that, success is waiting to happen. If we don't pitch and catch the ball, we're in trouble." Defense wasn't a serious problem for the Rangers in 2006. They were sixth in the league in team defense and committed just 98 errors. That's only the third time since 1972 in a non-strike season that the Rangers have committed less than 100 errors in a season. They were tied for the fifth-fewest unearned runs allowed in the American League. Pitching remains a troubled spot. The Rangers were eighth in American League pitching in 2006, and their 5.16 ERA over the past seven years is the second-highest in the league. Only the Royals have a higher ERA in that stretch. "I just want to make sure we as a pitching staff work fast, pound the strike zone and not be afraid of contact," said Washington, who saw first-hand with Oakland how far pitching can take a team. "The only difference between our staff and the Oakland pitching staff is the Oakland pitching staff knew that everything was predicated on them," Washington said. "They took it upon themselves to work fast and pound the strike zone, and give your team a chance to win. "That's the message I want these guys to understand. Give your team a chance to win the game. Don't be worried about throwing shutouts. Just keep your team in the ballgame." The Rangers know all about their pitching reputation, but they also know that Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla won 31 games between them in 2006, that Robinson Tejeda finished strong and that Brandon McCarthy, who was acquired from the White Sox in the offseason, has the potential to have a serious impact. They also know their bullpen had the fourth-best ERA in the American League, and he could be even stronger if closer Eric Gagne is back to full strength. This team is not looking for excuses. They are expecting to win and right now, their manager is as confident as anybody. "The overall expectation is winning," Washington said. "That's the expectation and they are capable. We have enough coaches who understand what winning is about, and they're going to make sure these guys get what they need. We just need to come together as a unit and go out there and go to work."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less