Rangers start season in L.A. tonight

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Sammy Sosa back in a Rangers uniform. Gary Matthews Jr. suiting up for the Angels.

Definitely signs that it's a new season.

AL West foes Texas and Los Angeles meet Monday with Sosa trying to prove he can still hit 'em out of the park, and Matthews going against his former teammates.

The season opener also will mark the major league managerial debut of the Rangers' Ron Washington, who spent the past 11 seasons as an Oakland assistant.

Sosa, the former Chicago Cubs slugger whose home run race with Mark McGwire captivated the nation, is back after taking a year off.

"I'm ready," said the 38-year-old Sosa, the only major leaguer with three 60-homer seasons and No. 5 on the career list with 588 home runs. "I had a good spring training, the whole thing. Coming back now to the season, I know I'm ready to go for it.

"It's opening day, everybody is excited, just want to have an opportunity to go out there and play. It's one thing I've been working for, and we'll be there Monday."

Sosa began his major league career with the Rangers in 1989 and went on to have an MVP season with the Cubs in 1998, when he hit .308 with a career-high 66 homers and 158 RBIs. That was the year McGwire became the first major leaguer to hit 70 home runs.

Sosa took a year off to "recharge" his battery after hitting .221 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 102 games for Baltimore in 2005.

He was among several players, including McGwire, who testified two years ago before a congressional committee looking into steroid use in professional baseball. Asked this spring about rumors regarding steroid use before they were banned by baseball 4 1/2 years ago, Sosa said: "I don't want to talk about that. Let's talk about baseball."

After making the club with an impressive spring, Sosa will bat fifth in the Rangers' lineup.

The 32-year-old Matthews, a career .263 hitter, is coming off his best year -- a .313 average, with 19 homers and 79 RBIs. The Angels signed him to a five-year, $50 million contract.

This spring, his name reportedly was linked to an investigation of unlawful trafficking in human growth hormone dating to 2004, but he issued a statement saying he had never taken HGH. Baseball is still looking into the matter.

Matthews will be going against some pals when he takes the field against the Rangers.

"I'm still really close to Michael Young, and Jerry Hairston is one of my best friends, so I never stop talking to those guys," Matthews said. "The only difference is that I'm in a different uniform and playing on a different side of the field."

The Angels, West champions in 2004 and 2005, had an 89-73 record last year and finished second behind the Athletics. Texas was third at 80-82.

Little has changed since last season for Los Angeles, which should have one of the best rotations in the league if Bartolo Colon can come back from a shoulder injury and Jered Weaver isn't hampered by tendinitis in his forearm. John Lackey will take the mound for the Angels in the opener, going against Kevin Millwood.

Closer Francisco Rodriguez and setup man Scot Shields anchor an outstanding bullpen.

"We're a much more well-rounded team this year," Angels general manager Bill Stoneman said. "With Matthews in center, that really adds to the outfield defense.

"Our young pitchers have one more year of experience, and that is going to mean a lot. It's really a solid rotation."

The Rangers again should have a powerful offense, with their pitching staff a question mark. Closer Eric Gagne, the 2003 Cy Young winner with the Dodgers who is struggling to come back from elbow and back surgery, will begin the season on the disabled list. He signed a $6 million, one-year contract with a chance to make $5 million more in performance bonuses.

Akinori Otsuka will begin the season as the closer. He converted 32 of 36 saves last year after replacing struggling Francisco Cordero.

Washington was eager to settle into his new job.

"I'm very much anticipating it just so I can put on my first set of signs, watch them execute something in the fundamental part of the game that we worked on, make my first pitching move," he said. "The rest from that point is, let's get it on."


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