It begs the question: Are the A’s in Darvish’s head?
The 2013 Cy Young runner-up did not have his usual fastball command on Monday in the first game of this three-game set between the top two teams in the AL West. Against a disciplined team like the A’s, if you’re not throwing strikes with the fastball, they’ll lay off it. And if you do throw a strike, they’ll hit it.
It’s not the first time Darvish has discovered that against Oakland. As he pitches in his third major league season, Darvish is now 1-7 with a 4.73 ERA in nine career starts against the A’s.
So why does Darvish think he struggles against them?
“They have a really good game plan against me,” Darvish said through an interpreter. “I saw some tendencies that I didn’t really see last year. After today’s outing I learned something. I think I’m going to take that to the next time I face them.”
Darvish didn’t elaborate, though he repeated that his fastball command wasn’t where it needed to be. That wonky command and the A’s timely hits forced Darvish to exit earlier than ever in his big league career. He gave up four runs on six hits in just 3 1/3 innings pitched. Darvish hit a batter and managed to walk No. 9 hitter Eric Sogard twice.
Sogard came in batting .204 with no homers and three RBIs. The second time Darvish walked him -- on four fastballs outside of the zone -- Rangers manager Ron Washington popped out of the dugout to get his ace.
“It wasn’t going to get any better,” Washington said. “Save those bullets.”
If you take away Darvish’s first start against the A’s in 2012, he’s 0-7 with a 5.32 ERA in his last eight starts. The Rangers have scored two or fewer runs in six of the seven losses.
What’s the skippers take on why Darvish struggles against the A’s?
“They’ve got hitters that have discipline,” Washington said. “They know what they want to hit and they wait on it.”
Once again, Darvish got no support. But he didn’t help himself by falling behind 2-0 in the third and 4-0 before the fourth was over.
Darvish didn’t make excuses, but he didn’t offer any explanations, either.
Watching that many innings from the dugout on the day he started had to feel strange to Darvish, who hadn’t done that in nearly eight years.
The last time Darvish came out of a start earlier than Monday was July 29, 2006, when he lasted just 1 1/3 innings in his second season in Japan, according to a few members of the Japanese media contingent who follow the Rangers. In that game, Darvish was pulled after giving up consecutive walks with the bases loaded.
On Monday, it was Oakland’s opportunistic bats that worked Darvish from the get-go. He needed 39 pitches to get through the first two innings, despite just one baserunner. He never looked particularly comfortable, either, working at a very slow pace.
Oakland drove up Darvish’s pitch count by fouling pitches off -- 17 of them in Darvish’s 3 1/3 innings -- and got into eight full counts. He’s had starts this season with one or two full counts. Eight is excessive for him.
He tried to mix in the breaking pitches, but without the fastball as a foundation there wasn’t much he could do against the focused and patient Oakland lineup. The A’s force Darvish to be nearly perfect and, if he’s not, they take advantage better than maybe any team in the majors.
The Rangers set up the schedule to have Darvish pitch in this series with Matt Harrison rejoining the rotation Sunday in Seattle, pushing Darvish back a day. But Darvish’s results weren’t much different than what he has always done against the A’s.
“This wasn’t really a Yu Darvish-esque night tonight,” said reliever Nick Martinez, who pitched five innings in saving the bullpen arms in relief of Darvish. “You don’t expect that from him.”
No, you don’t. It’s strange in that Darvish looks so dominant against most AL teams but can’t seem to solve the Rangers’ chief competition in the AL West.
He’ll certainly get some more chances as the season progresses.