Two pitchers with something to prove will square off at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday afternoon, as the Rangers and Astros close out their season-opening three-game series following Yu Darvish's near-perfect game on Tuesday night.
For Texas' Alexi Ogando, this season marks a return to the starting rotation after a year in the bullpen. For Houston's Philip Humber, it's a chance at a fresh start after a season that brought huge highs and lows.
Ogando made the American League All-Star team as a starter in 2011, when he went 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA. But he also posted a 5.06 ERA over his final 16 starts and was pushed into a relief role in '12.
Ogando said that this time around, the biggest difference is a better slider and changeup to complement his electric fastball.
"The offspeed stuff is what I wanted to work on, and I'm executing them better than I did two years ago," Ogando said. "That's the only thing I wish had been better two years ago."
Rangers manager Ron Washington believes Ogando has what it takes to make it as a starter.
"I think he has a feel for what it is to start," Washington said. "He knows the preparation and dedication it takes. He's experienced the grind and understands what he needs to do to maintain himself."
Humber's 2012 began spectacularly, as he completed a perfect game on April 21 for the White Sox against the Mariners -- with current Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate. But he struggled after that, falling out of the rotation by August and finishing the year with a 6.44 ERA.
The Astros claimed Humber off waivers this offseason, signing him to a one-year contract that includes a $3 million team option for 2014. The East Texas native and former Rice pitcher got off to a good start, with a 1.73 ERA in the Grapefruit League.
"I've been impressed with his ability," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "But I've been even more impressed with his humble nature [and the way] he presents himself every day. You talk about a guy who reached the pinnacle as far as a pitcher goes last year in throwing a perfect game. You talk to him, and he's a humble guy and has pitched at a high level in college and the big leagues, and it would be very fitting for him to make his first start in Houston where he has family and friends and has had great success."
Rangers: Washington undecided on Wednesday's catcher
A day game after a night game typically is a time for a team's backup catcher to get a start, but that will not necessarily be the case for Geovany Soto on Wednesday.
The Rangers signed Pierzynski this offseason, and he has been in the lineup for their first two games. He got the nod on Tuesday even though Washington likes how Soto works with Yu Darvish.
"I'll talk to A.J. after this game and see how he feels," Washington said Tuesday afternoon. "I'll get Soto in there. I can't say it's going to be tomorrow just because it's a day game after a night game. It's the third game of the season. Pierzynski is my everyday catcher, he needs to see the whole rotation. We'll see how we go. I'll probably get Soto back to Darvish at some point."
Astros: A Humber homecoming
Humber led Rice to the 2003 College World Series championship, pitching a complete game to beat Stanford. He left a year later, when the Mets made him the third overall pick of the First-Year Player Draft.
Wednesday will mark Humber's first outing at Minute Maid Park, and he said Tuesday he has left about 20 tickets for friends and family members. Humber grew up in Carthage, Texas, about three hours northeast of Houston.
"There will be some more people that I know, but they haven't hit me up for tickets yet, which is nice," he said. "There's going to be quite a few in the Humber crew and my wife's family, too, and we have an off-day the next day so we can hang out tomorrow night."
• Both lineups will be in unfamiliar territory. Chris Carter is the only Astros player with more than one plate appearance against Ogando, going 0-for-2 with two walks. No Rangers hitter has more than five at-bats against Humber.
• The Rangers are 52-37 in day games over the past two seasons after posting losing records during the day in 12 of the previous 13 years.
• With three hits on Tuesday, former Astros player and current Rangers slugger Lance Berkman now owns a 14-game hitting streak at Minute Maid Park.
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.