SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers pitchers and catchers went through their first workouts in the desert sunshine on Sunday, but Hank Blalock and Brad Wilkerson stayed indoors. They spent their time in the batting cages, taking their cuts and testing their surgically repaired right shoulders. They had similar operations last year, and both are well on their way to a full recovery. Blalock, who had surgery on Oct. 2, said he considers his shoulder to be a "non-issue" right now." The surgery was more significant for him because it was his throwing shoulder.
"I feel fine," Blalock said. "I played long toss the last two days and felt comfortable. We'll have to see once we start practice. As far as I'm concerned, it's a non-issue, but if I have to pace myself, I will because it's early." Position players don't report until Thursday, but Blalock and Wilkerson are in camp early to get a jump on recovery. Wilkerson, who throws left-handed, had his shoulder fixed on Aug. 22. "It feels as good as it ever has," Wilkerson said. "We're still going to take some precautions and be smart so I can be ready for Opening Day. I feel by Opening Day, I should be 100 percent strong. The pain is gone; I just need a little more strength." Emphasis on PFP: Rangers manager Ron Washington brought up last year's World Series when addressing his pitchers and catchers for the first time as a group on Sunday before their first workout. Pitcher fielding practice, better known as PFP, is a big part of early workouts, and everybody knows that the Detroit Tigers pitchers committed a record five errors in their five-game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2006 World Series. "I wouldn't want that to happen in a regular-season game," Washington said. "I wouldn't want that to happen in a Spring Training game. We need to take fundamentals seriously because over the course of a season, that will help us win ballgames. I was letting them know how important it is to not only to throw the ball, but to field your position, too." Job competition: Looks like there are only two spots open in the bullpen, which right now includes right-handers Eric Gagne and Akinori Otsuka and left-handers Ron Mahay and C.J. Wilson. Washington also says one of the remaining jobs is Wes Littleton's to lose. Littleton, a right-hander, was 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA in 33 games for the Rangers last year.
Washington also says that Miguel Ojeda has the inside track on the backup catching job behind Gerald Laird.No concerns on rules: The Rangers don't seem too concerned about some of the rule changes that might impact the game, most notably that a pitcher gets an automatic 10-game suspension for scuffing the baseball, and a pitcher has 12 seconds to throw his pitch when the bases are empty. "We encourage our pitchers to work fast, and we don't have anybody who scuffs the ball, so that shouldn't affect us," pitching coach Mark Connor said. Previously, pitchers had 20 seconds to throw a pitch. "There are going to be times when it's a good rule," pitcher Kevin Millwood said. "But when it's a big situation, you need to be thinking about some things and they're yelling at you to throw the ball, it doesn't make sense. That could be a game-changing situation." Umpires are also supposed to make batters keep at least one foot in the batter's box. "That would be nice," Connor said. Time adjustments: The Rangers announced that their night games in April, May and September will start at 7:05 p.m. CT to accommodate schools being in session and 7:35 p.m. in June, July and August to allow for cooler temperatures, more shade in sun-drenched left field and more time for fans to arrive. Weekday day games will start at 1:05 p.m., while Sunday games will start at 2:05 p.m. Briefly: Pitchers Frank Francisco, Armando Galarraga, Daniel Haigwood, Francisco Cruceta and John Rheinecker have all agreed to one-year contracts. ... Former Rangers Ivan Rodriguez, Buddy Bell and Jim Sundberg are on the ballot for the 50th anniversary Rawlings Gold Glove team that will be voted on by fans this summer. ... The Rangers have already scheduled three "B" games with the Kansas City Royals to get extra work for their pitchers and are looking for more games. ... Rangers coaches no longer wear red caps to distinguish themselves from the players. Players and staff all wear blue caps. ... Washington spent time working with infielders Matt Kata and Drew Meyer after the pitchers and catchers were finished. Kata has 160 games of Major League experience with Arizona and Philadelphia, and Rangers scout Mel Didier said, "He's going to help us. He's a hard-nosed guy who can do a lot of different things, and he can hit."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.