Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard could be used as a designated hitter in the season-opening series at Texas.
Philadelphia's Ryan Howard could be used as a designated hitter in the season-opening series at Texas. (KATHY WILLENS -- The Associated Press)

Coming off a less than stellar spring, and two years in which the Phillies not only failed to make the playoffs but also exceed the .500 mark, expectations of the team from outside the organization aren't too high.

With an already bleak outlook, starting the season off in Texas against the Rangers didn't look like the best scenario. Texas was an early spring pick by many to win the American League title as well as the World Series, after acquiring Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler and signing free-agent Shin-Soo Choo.

Now, with all the injuries the Rangers are dealing with, the Phillies might consider themselves lucky to be seeing Texas at the start of the season.

The biggest break Philadelphia will get is not having to face one of the best pitchers in the game, Yu Darvish, in the series. Originally slated to be the Opening Day starter against Cliff Lee, Darvish landed on the disabled list with a stiff neck and was replaced by right-hander Tanner Scheppers, a 27-year-old who has never started a game at the major league level.

In fact, Scheppers' last start came in 2011 with the Rangers Triple-A affiliate Round Rock Express. He spent last season as a relief pitcher for Texas and was highly effective, posting a 6-2 record with a 1.88 ERA in 76 2/3 innings. This spring, Scheppers had a 3.07 ERA.

The Rangers will also be without pitchers Derek Holland (left knee surgery), Matt Harrison (lower back stiffness) and Joseph Ortiz (fractured left foot) as well as their new second baseman and highly touted prospect Jurickson Profar (torn muscle in right shoulder).

After Scheppers, the Rangers plan to send lefties Martin Perez and Robbie Ross Jr. to the mound to face A.J. Burnett and Kyle Kendrick, respectively. Ross, like Scheppers, has been used as a reliever and has never started a game in the majors.

The Phillies, on the other hand, seem to be getting healthier with Cole Hamels as their only major piece out of the lineup.

One difference Philadelphia will have to plan for starting the season off in an American League ballpark is the need for a designated hitter.

Ryne Sandberg mentioned Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown as two candidates to fill the DH spot during the first three games of the season but has yet to finalize his decision.

The Phillies are hoping that the extra hitter in the lineup can do something to spark their offense, which ended the spring with a 27-inning scoreless drought and just six hits over the last three games.

Chase Utley, who has three of those six hits, seems to be the only Phillie swinging the bat right now after struggling early in spring training. Even though the rest of the team has failed to improve at the plate as the preseason went on, Utley's not worried about the offense.

"I like our like our lineup," Utley said. "We have some speed at the top, we have some power in the middle and we have some guys that can really handle the bat down at the bottom of the order. That's going to give us a good opportunity to score runs on a daily basis."

Sandberg isn't concerned either, noting the good contact and hard hits he's seen during the most recent slump.

"I look at the lineup and I see the at-bats, and I see balls being hit on the nose, and nothing to show for it, but I also look at the potential of the lineup," Sandberg said. "When it all counts on Monday, that's when I'm counting on balls to find some holes and have some baserunners and the guys going."

While hopes may not be high outside the organization, Ruben Amaro Jr. still sees a team that can compete with the best.

"Win the National League East," said Amaro when asked what a realistic goal is for the Phillies going into the year.

Sandberg agreed.

"When I look at our pitching and our rotation, not only the four guys to start the season but with what Cole's doing and then with [Jonathan] Pettibone and [David] Buchanan as backups … and the potential of the lineup, that's the goal," said Sandberg. "That's the expectation."

Following the three-game set against the Rangers, the Phillies will head to Chicago for three games against the Cubs before returning to Philadelphia for their home opener against the Brewers.

Notes: After being released by the team last week, the Phillies signed infielder Ronny Cedeno to a minor league contract and assigned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.