ARLINGTON, Texas -- Yu Darvish did not have his impressive stuff on Wednesday, but it was still his most impressive start of 2014.
Yeah, that might seem odd considering he was coming off eight shutout innings of one-hit ball against the Houston Astros last week. But Darvish did what aces must do when things aren't going exactly right: He grinded and kept his team in the game.
Darvish's fastball command wasn't good. His slider wasn't as dominant as usual. He seemed out of sync early, as the Mariners came in with a good game plan. They knew Darvish was getting ahead in counts with first-pitch fastballs and decided to attack it. The result was a triple by Nick Franklin with one out in the second inning, igniting just enough Seattle offense. Darvish walked Dustin Ackley with two outs -- probably his worst at-bat of the game -- then gave up consecutive singles to fall behind 2-0.
At that point, Darvish knew he needed to alter his approach if he was to pitch deep into the game.
"I had to have really good communication with [catcher Robinson] Chirinos during the game," Darvish said through an interpreter. "We both knew they were trying to hack early. He was calling a lot of fastballs and sliders, so we talked and I told him that I have other pitches, as well.
"After that, we were able to get on the same page and throw a lot of effective breaking balls on the first pitch."
Darvish utilized his curve, change and splitter more for the rest of the game. And despite some long at-bats and a couple of walks, he got through seven innings in 107 pitches.
With Felix Hernandez hypnotizing the Rangers' offense, Darvish had to find a way to minimize damage and not let the game get away from him. He did exactly that.
It's easy to stay in a rhythm and come out with great numbers when most of what you're throwing is working -- and that's most of the time for Darvish. But that wasn't the case on Wednesday, and he still gave his team seven innings and a quality start.
What he didn't get were runs. Darvish has now pitched 22 innings this season and has zero runs of support.
"It's not like I'm able to go to the batter's box and hit, but I have a lot of respect for my teammates," Darvish said. "It is what it is. Sometimes there are days like this."
That's especially true when Felix Hernandez is on the mound. And he had his top-shelf stuff working on Wednesday. While Darvish's fastball command was wonky, Hernandez was spotting everything where he wanted and using that devastating changeup to get plenty of swings and misses. Hernandez had nine strikeouts and just one walk and made a surprisingly early exit after a leadoff triple in the eighth. It was the hardest hit ball the Rangers had all day off him (by Leonys Martin, later the hero in the ninth) and manager Lloyd McClendon decided to bring in lefty Charlie Furbush. Pinch hitter Michael Choice hit a sac fly to get the Rangers within one.
Darvish seemed destined to pick up the loss until the Rangers resiliency kicked in. A two-out single by Kevin Kouzmanoff, a walk by Mitch Moreland (who never attempted to swing during the at-bat) and an error by Mariners shortstop Brad Miller loaded the bases. Then a wild pitch and a single by Martin gave the Rangers the unlikely walk-off win.
They aren't in position to produce the heroics without Darvish hanging in despite not having his Grade A repertoire. That's what made Wednesday his best start of the season.