Rangers’ Darvish scratched from start with neck stiffness

MINNEAPOLIS — Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish was scratched from his scheduled start at Minnesota because of neck stiffness he woke up with, and right-hander Scott Baker was summoned back from the bullpen to face his former team Tuesday night.

It was yet another injury to a star player for the ailing Rangers, who entered the day with wins in five of their previous six games despite the persistence of health problems.

“Just go play. Everyone still has a job to do. We’ve lost a lot of good ballplayers, but we’ve also got a lot of good ballplayers out there,” said manager Ron Washington, who learned of the latest setback around noon, seven hours before first pitch.

The Rangers were hoping Darvish would be able to avoid the disabled list, but they were waiting for results of a precautionary MRI test on his neck, which was stiff enough in spring training to keep him from pitching for nearly three weeks and delay his season debut by one start until April 6.

General manager Jon Daniels told reporters that Darvish said this injury didn’t feel as bad as the last one, but given all the time the Rangers have spent in the training room this year they were proceeding cautiously.

Baker, who was a second-round draft pick by the Twins out of Oklahoma State in 2003, spent five seasons at the front of their rotation until an elbow injury forced Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in 2012. Baker gave up six runs in six innings Friday at Detroit in his first start of the year but was intended to be moved back to long relief afterward. Against the Twins, he took the mound with three days of rest.

Whether he stays in the rotation this time will depend, of course, on Darvish’s status. The 27-year-old Japanese sensation is 4-2 in nine starts with a 2.35 ERA, the fourth-best in the league. He has 71 strikeouts in 61 1-3 innings.

“If he can pitch Sunday, I want him to pitch,” Washington said, acknowledging he’d prefer Darvish not have to swing the bat or run the bases with the Rangers playing an interleague series at Washington.

The Rangers will have to make a roster move Wednesday regardless, with left-hander Joe Saunders due to come off the disabled list and pitch against the Twins. Saunders has been out since April 4, when he was hit by a line drive on his left ankle in the fourth inning at Tampa Bay. Saunders suffered a stress fracture and made four rehabilitation starts in the minors this month.

“There’s no limit on Joe. The Minnesota Twins are going to tell us how limited he’s going to be,” Washington said.

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