An Ace Is Born
When he first came to the United States for his introductory press conference, Yu Darvish tried to be both humble and confident at the same time. While acknowledging his need to acclimate to his new surroundings and his respect for the new players he would face, he also expressed his goal to become “the best pitcher in the world.”
As the season progressed, we saw the work in progress. Against the Yankees April 24th, Darvish tossed 8.1 innings of 10-strikeout, shutout ball. Too often, though, we saw games like Darvish’s first American start against the Seattle Mariners in the season’s third game of the year: four walks, five strikeouts, five earned runs in less than six innings of work. After each poor performance, Darvish would humbly address the media through his interpreter, talking about changing this approach or that. Then, we’d see him implement those changes, and he’d struggle again.
The perception of Darvish was the dreaded Daisuke Matsuzaka comparison: a lot of stuff, but constant nibbling and trying to get the perfect pitch to put a batter away. For awhile, that was good enough. Darvish entered the month of July with a sparkling 10-4 record and a modest but acceptable 3.57 ERA. That was enough for the Rangers to get another player added to the AL All-Star team in the fan vote.
The six weeks spanning July 1-August 12 were a disaster. The nibbling and constant mechanical adjustments caught up to Darvish. Over 7 starts, he compiled a 2-4 record with a monstrous 6.60 ERA. He struck out 56 in 45 innings, but he also walked 29 batters and hit three others. His strike percentage was down to 61%, his average Game Score a paltry 45. After another pedestrian start against Detroit, again Darvish spoke of making changes. This time, though, he said he wasn’t doing things the way he did them in Japan and he was going to try to get back to doing things the Japanese way.
Sure. We’d heard it all before. Rangers fans were becoming more convinced that, though this signing certainly wasn’t a bust, Darvish had as much a chance of becoming the latest Bobby Witt as the second coming of Ken Hill.
Ron Washington decided it was time to intervene. He had a sitdown with Darvish (and his interpreter) to get a feel for where his pitcher’s head was at. It was reported in the media they discussed the pressures of trying to please or impress so many people. Darvish was trying to impress his fans back home in Japan, Rangers fans, baseball fans in general. Wash told him to stop trying to impress everyone else and just try to impress Yu Darvish.
Whether it was going back to his Japanese way of doing things, Wash talking to him or recently acquired Geovany Soto catching him every start, something sure clicked. In his last five starts, Darvish has been nothing short of phenomenal. A 3-1 record. An ERA of 2.00. 43 strikeouts in only 36 innings pitched and only 8 walks. A Batting Average Against of .132. Yes, .132. Only one home run given up. His strike percentage is up to 67%.
Friday night, Darvish made several Mariners look downright foolish in pitching seven innings of 2-hit, 9 strikeout baseball while picking up his 15th win of the season. His slow curve was working so well, he had one strikeout where strike two came on a 61 MPH curve, followed by strike three on a 94 MPH fastball. That’s almost unfair to a batter. And before you say, “Yeah, but that was against the Mariners”, Seattle was the team Darvish had done the worst against of any team entering the game, compiling a 9.00 ERA in 15 innings pitched over three starts (Personally, I think he was trying to impress Ichiro, who’s now torched him for a .545 BA in 11 AB’s).
The Yu Darvish we’ve seen over the past five starts is the one the Rangers’ front office thought they were signing when they put in their extraordinary $58 million plus bid just for the rights to negotiate with him ten months ago. Friday night, he became the 16th rookie pitcher since 1900 to record 200+ strikeouts in a season. He leads the league in 10+ strikeout games. His batting average against is one of the lowest in the AL. And now, he’s given up three hits or less in four of his last five starts, only four hits in his last two starts combined.
One of the big knocks against the Rangers, despite two World Series appearances in two years, was they had no true ace at the top of their pitching rotation. If Darvish’s last three starts of the season continue to be like the previous five have been, he’s more than capable of going head to head against CC, Jered, Justin, David or anyone else’s #1 in the post-season.
- Yu Da Man! (40yearrangerfan.mlblogs.com)