Bad timing: Tommy Hunter suffers strained right groin

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Mere hours after announcing that young flame-thrower Neftali Feliz will remain in his familiar ninth inning role to open the 2011 season, the Rangers got a dose of unfortunate news concerning one of the members of their starting rotation.

According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, right-hander Tommy Hunter was lifted from his Cactus League outing Thursday against the Reds due to a strained muscle in the right side of his groin.

Hunter told reporters after the game that he is still aiming to be available for the start of the regular season, but that seems way doubtful given the normal recovery time for a groin strain. It’s almost certain, in fact, that he’s going to be placed on the disabled list before Opening Day.

The Rangers probably won’t want to use Feliz as a spot starter in the early going even though he’s stretched out and wholly capable, so they’ll likely look to a guy like Scott Feldman or maybe even Dave Bush to do the filling in while Hunter recovers. It should only be three or four weeks.

Hunter, 24, finished with a healthy 13-4 record and 3.73 ERA over 128 innings last season for Texas.

Shohei Ohtani medically cleared to begin a throwing progression

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The Angels released a medical update on P/DH Shohei Ohtani Thursday evening. Ohtani was reevaluated by Dr. Steve Yoon at the Kerlan Jobe Institute. The right-hander’s sprained UCL showed improved healing and, as a result, he has been cleared to begin a throwing progression.

Ohtani, 24, was diagnosed with a Grade 2 sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow after his June 6 start against the Royals and hasn’t pitched since, though he has been in the lineup as a hitter since July 3. It was initially believed he would undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. Then the thought was that Ohtani wouldn’t pitch again for the rest of the season, but this update suggests a possibility he could return to the mound before the season is over.

In nine starts, Ohtani put together a 3.10 ERA with a 61/20 K/BB ratio in 49 1/3 innings. As a hitter, he batted .283/.365/.522 with seven home runs and 22 RBI in 157 plate appearances.