Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish
We don’t see these matchups as often you may expect, ace versus ace, best in the game versus best in the game. For the third time in their careers, Felix Hernandez faced Yu Darvish. The first two battles, both in 2012, went to King Felix: He allowed one run in eight innings and then pitched a three-hit, 12-strikeout gem, as Darvish struggled in both outings.
Let's follow along with a running diary of the Texas Rangers’ 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
You certainly have to expect a low-scoring game. Darvish hasn’t allowed a run in his first two starts and faces a Seattle lineup that has been shut out in three of its past six games. Hernandez has allowed six runs in his three starts with an impressive 30-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
After a scoreless top of the inning, Hernandez takes the mound, top two buttons undone, pants legs down over the top of his shoelaces, his upper lip unshaven and a scraggly fluff of hair sprouting from his chin. Hernandez’s best weapon has been his changeup; batters are 2-for-27 against it with 18 strikeouts. It has been so good that he’s thrown it 28 percent of the time, up from 19 percent in 2013.
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Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal faced each other just four times, which seems odd to me. Marichal and Koufax were both starters from 1961 to 1966 and the Dodgers and Giants played each other 18 times a season back then, so you’d think they would have matched up more often. You’d maybe even expect the managers to purposely arrange their rotations for their aces to square off. Koufax pitched 26 times against the Giants over those six seasons and Marichal faced the Dodgers 30 times (remarkably, he never allowed more than four runs in those starts), so odds were they should have faced each other a few more times.
In the four games they did pitch against each other, Marichal didn’t even get an official plate appearance in two of them. Once, Koufax got knocked out in the first inning before Marichal hit. Another game -- the last time the two started against each other -- was Aug. 22, 1965, the infamous game when Marichal attacked Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro.
Koufax faced Bob Gibson five times, and they had some great duels. Twice, Koufax beat Gibson 1-0. He pitched a third shutout in another game.
Nick Franklin, just called up from Tacoma, lines a first-pitch cutter into right-center for a one-out triple. Darvish strikes out Justin Smoak on a 1-2 fastball out of the strike zone but then works carefully to Dustin Ackley, walking him to face the right-handed Mike Zunino. Darvish starts out with a 94-mph fastball that Zunino takes for a strike, but the 0-1 pitch is a hanging slider in the middle of the plate and Zunino lines a soft single to center. Right pitch, bad execution. Abraham Almonte then plates Ackley, lining a 1-1 fastball into left field to make it 2-0.
While Hernandez is sailing along through three innings (he started eight of the first nine batters with strikes), Darvish finds himself in a jam, thanks to some shaky defense. Justin Smoak singles past the statuesque Prince Fielder and then Zunino reaches when outfielders Leonys Martin and Shin-Soo Choo miscommunicate on a fly ball. Almonte strikes out. Brad Miller gets ahead in the count 2-1, Darvish gets a gift call on a 2-1 curve that looks outside and then appears to strike out Miller on a good heater on the inside corner. But plate ump Ted Barrett calls it a ball to the displeasure of Darvish. The 3-2 pitch is a slider that Miller sends routinely to right field.
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Roger Clemens reached the majors in 1984, Randy Johnson in 1988. They were both in the American League through 1998 and in the National League in 2004, but they faced each other only twice, in 1992 and 1994. Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez started just three times against each other, once in 1994 and twice in 1995, during Maddux’s apex. He tossed shutouts in two of those games.
According to research by RetroSheet researcher Tom Ruane, the two pitchers who faced off most often in their careers were Jim McCormick and Mickey Welch, who battled 40 times between 1880 and 1887. Since 1900, the most common matchup was between Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson and Three-Finger Brown, with 23. Brown’s Cubs beat Mathewson’s Giants 12 times to 11. Since World War II, it’s Warren Spahn and Bob Friend, with 21 games.
Two other Hall of Famers who pitched regularly against each other were Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton, with 17 duels between 1970 and 1983. And duel they did. On Sept. 24, 1972 -- the year Carlton went 27-10 with an awful Phillies team -- Seaver beat Carlton 2-1, the game decided in the eighth on an unearned run. On Opening Day 1973, Seaver won 3-0 with 7 2/3 scoreless innings. On Opening Day 1975, Seaver beat him 2-1, the winning scoring in the bottom of the ninth. In September of 1976, Seaver won 1-0 with a four-hit shutout.
If you’re getting the idea that Seaver had Carlton’s number, it’s kind of true. Or he had the Phillies’ number. The first nine times they faced each other, Seaver went 8-0 with a no-decision. Carlton always pitched well, but Seaver seemed to bring his best stuff. Carlton did finally beat him three times, but overall Seaver went 11-3 with a 2.74 ERA while Carlton went 3-12 with a 2.77 ERA (Seaver had two blow-up starts that raised his ERA). The last time they met was Opening Day 1983. Seaver had returned to the Mets after his exile to Cincinnati, where he had gone 5-13 with a 5.50 ERA in 1982. But the game was at Shea Stadium. Of course Seaver had to start. He tossed six scoreless innings. The Mets won 2-0.
Darvish has settled down after some early issues with baserunners but he also ran up his pitch count. Meanwhile, the King is dealing, with eight strikeouts and three hits through six. While Darvish has thrown 98 pitches through six, Felix is at 79 (55 for strikes).
If you want a good lesson on what makes Hernandez so good -- and especially so good early on this year -- is that he can throw all four of his pitches on any count. So what has Hernandez done Wednesday night? All eight of his strikeouts have come on fastballs, at least according to MLB.com -- five four-seamers and three two-seamers. The guy is amazing.
(The MLB GameDay system I’m checking could be misidentifying some of his changeups as two-seam sinkers -- you know, because who else throws a changeup that’s only a couple miles per hour slower than his fastball. Readers on Twitter say several of the strikeouts were changeups, which is probably the case. We'll see what the data says after the game.)
In what’s probably his final inning, Darvish cruises with a 1-2-3 frame, including his eighth strikeout. Solid effort for Darvish on a night he didn’t appear to have his A stuff. The one pitch he’d like to have back was that slider to Zunino.
Hernandez racks up his ninth strikeout, getting Kevin Kouzmanoff on another fastball, although at 88 mph it may have been another changeup.
Darvish is done, and so is Hernandez after giving up a leadoff triple to Martin. I’m a little surprised at the hook since Hernandez is only at 96 pitches and has kept the Rangers off-balance all night. Felix did not look too happy when Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon took the ball from him, that’s for sure. You know this is the kind of game he at least wants to get the ball into the hands of closer Fernando Rodney.
The Rangers score a run on a sacrifice fly but Charlie Furbush and Yoervis Medina escape without further damage.
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In 1959, Lew Burdette and Robin Roberts faced off seven times, the last time two pitchers started that many times against each other in one season. Only one of them was much of a deal, Roberts winning 2-1 on July 4 as he scattered eight hits in a complete game. Another fun piece of data from Tom Ruane: Babe Ruth faced Walter Johnson five times in 1916. There were just 18 runs scored in those five games. How would you like to find a time machine and go watch one those matchups?
Stop reading, Mariners fans. Rodney on for the save. Two quick outs. Kouzmanoff with a grounder to Miller's left that he dives for but can't corral it. He was shaded way in the hole and had a long ways to go, so it was not an easy play. Rodney falls behind Mitch Moreland with two balls, sending McClendon out to the mound (probably telling him to be careful with Moreland since light-hitting Josh Wilson is on deck). Moreland walks on a 3-2 pitch. Donnie Murphy bats for Wilson and hits a routine grounder right to Miller, who tosses the ball high to Robinson Cano at second base, pulling him off the bag. Everybody safe. Wild pitch. Game tied. Martin with a soft single to left. Game over.
What can I say? In what should have been a final sentence exclaiming the brilliance of Felix Hernandez we're instead left saying poor Felix.
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.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Leonys Martin's single ended a wild ninth inning as the Texas Rangers earned their fourth walk-off win at home this season, 3-2 over the Seattle Mariners. Texas did all the damage with two outs. Kevin Kouzmanoff singled, Mitch Moreland walked and then the Rangers got some help. Donnie Murphy's ground ball to short should have ended the inning, but the flip to second was high. The error kept the inning going and loaded the bases for Martin. A wild pitch scored the tying run, and then, Martin's single to left ended it. A few quick thoughts:
Pitch counts: It seems to be a topic of conversation every time Yu Darvish pitches, but the 27-year-old ace threw 107 pitches in seven innings Wednesday -- an average of 15.2 per inning. He came into the game No. 2 in the AL in pitches per inning at 12.7, nearly four fewer pitches per inning than his average last season. Darvish had two full counts in a 19-pitch first inning and didn't get much more efficient from there. Darvish adjusted by throwing more breaking pitches earlier in the count for strikes, but his command of his fastball and slider was not as good as it was in his first two starts.
Ambushing the fastball: Knowing that Darvish was getting ahead on hitters with first-pitch strikes in his first two starts, the Mariners came in with the idea of swinging at first-pitch fastballs and got a triple off one from Nick Franklin with one out in the second inning to get Seattle in position to score. A single by Mike Zunino plated Franklin. Darvish also walked Dustin Ackley with two outs, and that proved costly, as Abraham Almonte's single brought home Ackley to make it 2-0.
Where's the run support?: Darvish has pitched 22 innings this season, and his offense has yet to score a run for him. Not one. Blame Felix Hernandez for that Wednesday, but it's been like that all season. Darvish has no margin for error. On Wednesday, the Rangers managed just four hits and were 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position while Darvish was on the mound.
Defensive issues: In the two-run second for the Mariners, Shin-Soo Choo charged Almonte's single but seemed to hesitate before throwing home. His throw home was off target and went to the backstop, allowing a runner to advance. A few innings later, Martin and Choo had a communication issue, and what should have been a routine fly-ball out glanced off Martin's glove and hit the ground. It was scored a hit but was another mistake by the defense. Texas has 15 errors in 15 games this season, which leads the AL, but the Rangers have made other miscues that haven't been called errors.
Hernandez dazzles: It sure looked like the Cy Young version of Hernandez on the mound Wednesday. He allowed one run (in the eighth) on four hits with a walk and nine strikeouts. He was lifted after just 96 pitches following Martin's leadoff triple in the eighth. Martin scored on Michael Choice's sacrifice fly. Hernandez threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 26 batters he faced. In three career meetings against Darvish (the other two in 2012), Hernandez is 3-0 and has a 0.75 ERA in 24 innings pitched with 28 strikeouts and three walks. Darvish didn't have his best stuff but hung in for seven innings, allowing two runs.
Briefly: Kouzmanoff's ninth-inning single kept his hitting streak alive. He's hit in all seven games he's played for the Rangers. ... Moreland's first walk of the season came against Hernandez in the fourth. He also walked with two outs in the ninth off Fernando Rodney.
Up next: Right-handed pitcher Tanner Scheppers (0-1, 7.88 ERA) goes up against righty Erasmo Ramirez (1-2, 5.63 ERA) at 1:05 p.m. on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM and Fox Sports Southwest.
But the skipper wouldn't be putting Chirinos behind the plate if he wasn't convinced that the young catcher can help navigate Darvish through the Seattle Mariners lineup. The reality is that Darvish will call his own game and has a specific plan. But that doesn't mean just anyone can catch him. Darvish has to feel comfortable and trust that the guy catching can handle all of his pitches. Washington believes that won't be an issue for Chirinos or Darvish.
"That's the way it fell," Washington said when asked why Chirinos was catching. "I usually give [Robinson] a couple of back-to-back games. I've given J.P. [Arencibia] a couple of back-to-back games. [Robinson] hasn't had back-to-back games since Boston. So this is his back-to-back games."
Washington said he's been impressed with how Chirinos has "been receiving and his energy" and expects the same thing tonight. Chirinos caught Darvish for an inning Friday and has caught him in spring training.
"He'll be fine," Washington said. "Darvish does his homework, and Chirinos will be up in his pocket doing it with him. They'll be on the same page. And if he puts something down that Darvish doesn't want, all he's got to do is shake."
The Rangers haven't had much offense from the catching position this season -- a total of six hits between Chirinos and Arencibia -- for a .128 average, last in the American League. The .430 OPS is also last. But Washington isn't worried about that.
"I'm not expecting offense out of my catchers," Washington said. "I want them to get my pitchers through innings. Whatever I get offensively, I get."
Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez have pitched against each other before, doing so twice in 2012.
But that's ancient history when talking about Darvish's progression. He pitched better late in 2012, even putting up a solid effort in the AL wild-card game, a loss to Joe Saunders and the Baltimore Orioles. Darvish carried that over into 2013 and was the Cy Young runner-up with a 2.83 ERA, a league-leading 277 strikeouts and a 1.073 WHIP. Darvish cut down on his walks and became an even better pitcher.
He's taking yet another step so far in 2014.
Darvish hasn't allowed a run in his first two starts (15 innings), while tallying 15 strikeouts and two walks. He went eight shutout innings against the Houston Astros, but got a no-decision as the Rangers scored the game's only run in the 12th inning for the walk-off win.
* Colby Lewis' debut. We've written about Lewis this weekend, so check out on the blog how he's feeling for the upcoming start. He pitches tonight for the first time in nearly two years. I think the Rangers just want Lewis to keep them in games and eat innings. He doesn't have to be a top-end rotation guy. But he gives them a grit and competitiveness on the mound that they need.
Felix Hernandez vs. Yu Darvish. It would be the third time the two aces have met, but the first since July 14, 2012. Both pitchers have had completely different numbers when facing each other in those previous two meetings. A look:
Darvish: 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA (11 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings), nine strikeouts and 10 walks
Hernandez: 2-0 with a 0.53 ERA (one earned run in 17 innings), 19 strikeouts and two walks, one complete game
It's worth noting, of course, that Darvish was just starting his first big league season in 2012 and Hernandez had already won a Cy Young in 2010 and ended up having a perfect game in 2012.
Perez loves double plays: Young Martin Perez found a nice pace in Sunday's game, pitching quickly and with confidence. He allowed four hits, but no runs and the double play was very helpful for him. He induced four ground-ball double plays, including one to end the eighth inning, his final frame of the game. Perez was leading the AL with five ground-ball double plays before the game started.
Long start: For just the second time in his career, Perez got through at least eight innings. The only other time he did it was Aug. 11, 2013 against the same Astros. In that one, he got a complete-game victory, allowing just one run on four hits.
Don't steal from me: Catcher Robinson Chirinos' arm was impressive on Sunday as he threw out two Houston runners attempting to steal. He nailed Jonathan Villar in the third and Matt Dominguez in the fifth. He has thrown out four baserunners this season.
Andrus ejected: Elvis Andrus argued a called third strike to end the third inning and was quickly ejected by home plate umpire Alan Porter. It was a low strike call and Andrus didn't like it. The ejection also brought an end to Andrus' streak of hitting safely in every game this season. He was at 11 games prior to Sunday, so he won't catch Al Oliver's club-record 13 in 1979.
Solid substitutes: Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy made their presences felt in Sunday's game. Wilson moved over to shortstop and Murphy came in to play second when Andrus was ejected. They played solid defense, and provided some offensive help in the sixth. Wilson led off the inning with a single, went from first to third on a single by Shin-Soo Choo and scored on Murphy's sacrifice fly, which game in the spot that Andrus would have batted in had not been asked to depart early.
Ogando in for the save: With Joakim Soria having pitched for two straight games, Alexi Ogando got the opportunity to save Sunday's game and came through. It was his fourth career save, his last one coming in 2012 as he pitched when Joe Nathan needed rest that season, grabbing three saves.
Defensive gems: Prince Fielder made a nice diving stop toward the first-base line to take an extra-base hit away from Jesus Guzman with one out in the fourth. Fielder worked earlier this homestand on his footwork and short-hops at first base with manager Ron Washington and will get some more work on other aspects of his defense before the homestand ends. But that was a very nice play for Fielder to keep the Astros off the bases. ... Josh Wilson, playing shortstop after Andrus' ejection, ranged to his left and snagged a line drive from L.J. Hoes, preventing a hit in the fifth.
As for the Mercy Me concert, a decision will be made on whether it's still going on once the game ends. If it doesn't, it will be rescheduled for later in the season.
If the game is played -- and at this point, there has been no announcement to the contrary from the club -- left-handed pitcher Martin Perez take the mound for Texas against left-handed starter Brett Oberholtzer.
Should the rain clear out and the two teams get the game in, here's the predicted matchups:
Monday: RHP Colby Lewis vs. LHP Roenis Elias, 7:05 p.m., ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM
Tuesday: LHP Robbie Ross vs. RHP Blake Beavan, 7:05 p.m., ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM
Wednesday: RHP Yu Darvish vs. RHP Felix Hernandez, 7:05 p.m., ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM
Thursday: RHP Tanner Scheppers vs. RHP Erasmo Ramirez, 1:05 p.m., ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A Texas Rangers comeback fell short on Saturday, as the Houston Astros scored in the 10th inning and held on for a 6-5 win.
Texas tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, but a triple by Jason Castro, aided by a strange bounce off the wall in right, put him in position to score on Jose Altuve's sac fly to right. A few thoughts:
Great stop: Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar made a terrific diving play, backhanding a ball to his right and throwing to first to get Alex Rios with Elvis Andrus at second and no outs in the bottom of the 10th. The Astros wiggled out of the jam and preserved the win. The game could still be going on if not for Villar's play.
Baserunning blunder: After Rios hit a double off the wall in left-center to score Andrus and make it a one-run game, the outfielder tried to steal third. He was caught stealing for the first out of the inning, preempting the rally. The next two Rangers batters got out quickly, and any hope of tying the game at that point was lost. Rios also had trouble with a throw back to the infield in the 10th, missing the cutoff man, though it didn't allow the Astros an extra base (that happened on the odd bounce off the wedge wall).
Right Choice: Michael Choice didn't start the game, but he came in to pinch hit to lead off the ninth inning and belted his first career home run 412 feet into the Rangers bullpen to tie the score. It was only the 13th at-bat of the season for Choice, who hits mainly against left-handed pitchers. That included lefty Kevin Chapman in the ninth on Saturday, and Choice took advantage.
Two-out runs: Through three starts for Tanner Scheppers, he's had trouble finishing off innings with runners on base. That was the case again on Saturday as the Astros came back from a 2-0 deficit to score five runs -- four with two outs -- in the fourth inning to take the lead. Scheppers didn't allow a hit in the game until that frame but gave up three singles, a walk and a three-run home run to alter the game early.
Velocity up: When Scheppers was in the bullpen, he was regularly able to dial up his fastball to 95 or 96 mph. That didn't happen this season until Saturday. Scheppers touched 97 at one point and had that fastball in the 93-95 range consistently. That was an improvement.
Better finish: The fourth inning -- and Robbie Grossman's three-run homer specifically (with some help from the Globe Life Park jetstream) -- ruined any bid for a quality start, but Scheppers did bear down in the next three innings to get through seven. He needed 29 pitches as he retired nine of the next 10 batters he faced to finish off his start.
Hard-hit balls: Prince Fielder hit a few balls hard on Saturday, perhaps a sign that his timing is coming around. Fielder's single in the first was a one-hopper through the shift and probably the hardest ball he's hit all season. He also hit a long fly ball in the third. It's a small thing, but with Fielder struggling to do anything, it was noticeable.
Leadoff strikeouts: Neither leadoff hitter had a good night on Saturday. Shin-Soo Choo, who came in with seven strikeouts the whole season, had five in five at-bats, including four off Jarred Cosart (two of them looking). It was the first time he had five strikeouts in his career. The last time he had four strikeouts in a game was in July 2012 while with Cleveland. Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler wasn't much better, striking out in his first three at-bats against Scheppers (one of those looking).
Did it hit him?: Carlos Corporan was given first base in the sixth on a hit-by-pitch that plate umpire Rob Drake said hit the jersey. But it sure looked on the replay like it didn't hit him. That is a call the manager can challenge, but the Rangers chose not to do that. The HBP came with two outs, and Scheppers retired the next batter to end the inning.
Briefly: Donnie Murphy got a chance to play second base and took advantage with a double, a walk and two runs scored. Andrus has now hit safely in 11 games to start the season. The club record is 13 by Al Oliver in 1979.
Up next: Left-hander Martin Perez (1-0, 4.50 ERA) takes the mound for the Rangers in the final game of this series against Brett Oberholtzer (0-2, 4.91) in a 2:05 p.m. game.
Yes, it's just two starts. But already, Darvish's elite stuff is colliding with his two seasons of big league experience to produce a pitcher that has the confidence, command and efficiency of a Cy Young favorite.
Darvish baffled the Astros on Friday. He oozed fastball command, locating where he wanted and when he wanted. He then turned the tables on those same hitters, throwing his slider more the second time around the order. Then he pitched backward, working his curve ball and breaking stuff earlier in the counts when the Astros were expecting fastballs. The result was a one-hit, eight-inning shutout performance with one walk and nine strikeouts. He needed only 102 pitches to do it, continuing his trend of lower pitch counts and more innings.
Darvish didn't even have a three-ball count until the seventh, when he issued his only walk. The Astros never did manage to get a runner in scoring position against him. It appears that only a stiff neck can keep Darvish from dominating hitters. Through two starts, he has given up no runs and eight hits in 15 innings with 15 strikeouts and two walks.
Darvish didn't get the win Friday as the Rangers' bats were silent until Robinson Chirinos won it with a walkoff single in the 12th. But he wasn't on the losing side of a 1-0 game the way he was four times last season, either.
"If I could pitch like this in every start, it would be very nice," Darvish said.
And it would be a career-best season, too.
About the only thing that went wrong for Darvish -- besides the Rangers' inability to score runs for him -- was that the fingernail on his ring finger cut the top of his thumb midway through the game. Television cameras caught the blood on his thumb and on his uniform, but it didn't bother Darvish.
"It happened many times in Japan and it didn't hurt more or affect me a bit," Darvish said.
That was bad news for the Astros, who just couldn't do anything. Houston's lineup featured six hitters coming into the game with batting averages under .200 and another hitting .226. So maybe it was expected that Darvish would slice through them without too many issues.
But this Darvish is different from 2013 when he finished second to Max Scherzer in the Cy Young voting. The 2014 Darvish gets ahead of hitters quicker. He doesn't seem to fool around at all, building off his fastball location. He doesn't feel the need to throw all of his pitches, opting to go with what's working.
That approach, gleaned from a couple of seasons in the big leagues, is making Darvish an even better pitcher. If he stays healthy, this should be a very interesting and successful season for him.
It was the longest game (by innings) to go scoreless in Arlington since Sept. 22, 1992, when the Rangers lost to the Minnesota Twins 1-0 in 13 innings. Nolan Ryan started the game for the Rangers with Pudge Rodriguez catching. Both Ryan and Rodriguez were at the game Friday.
Darvish dazzles: The Rangers' ace loves pitching against the Astros. Last season, he was one out away from a perfect game in Houston in April. On Friday, he had a perfect game through five innings before Matt Dominguez -- hitting .129 when the game started -- hit an 0-2 breaking pitch for a looping hit to left-center. Darvish retired the next three batters to end the inning with no damage done, but it ended his perfect game and no-hit hopes. In that at-bat, Dominguez hit a foul ball down the right-field line that Alex Rios nearly caught but wasn't able to (and it would have required he dive against the wall, which would have been risky). Shortly thereafter, Darvish gave up the hit.
Still, Darvish went eight innings and gave up that lone hit with one walk and nine strikeouts. It was a terrific performance. He now has pitched 15 innings of scoreless baseball.
Darvish established his fastball the first time through the order, then utilized the slider more the second time through. Once again, he was efficient, throwing 101 pitches in his eight innings of work. Darvish was in command and in control out there, not even getting to a three-ball count until he walked Jose Altuve with two outs in the seventh. It didn't hurt that the Astros rolled out a lineup that featured six batters hitting under .200 and another hitting .226.
Baserunning problems: Shin-Soo Choo did a terrific job of getting on base Friday, drawing three walks and a single in six plate appearances. But after a single in the 11th, Choo stole second base with one out and Elvis Andrus at the plate. Andrus hit a dribbler in front of the plate and Choo froze rather than moving to third. With Andrus' speed, it would have put even more pressure on the Astros, never mind possibly putting the winning run at third base with two outs, should a wild pitch or something have happened. Instead, Choo stayed at second and the Astros retired Alex Rios to end the inning.
10th-inning issues: Texas had a great chance to win the game in the 10th inning, loading the bases with no outs. Houston brought in Marwin Gonzalez and inserted him as part of a five-man infield with no left fielder. The Rangers needed a fly ball and couldn't get it. Mitch Moreland hit into a fielder's choice with the Astros throwing out Rios at home. Chirinos struck out and Leonys Martin grounded out to second.
Not quite in ninth: The Rangers rallied with two outs in the inning as Martin singled and Josh Wilson also singled, with Martin going to third. Choo had a typically solid at-bat, getting behind in the count but still drawing a walk. Andrus came up with the bases loaded and grounded out to end the inning.
Is that blood?: At one point in the sixth inning, TV cameras showed the top of Darvish's thumb was cut and he was bleeding a bit. It didn't seem to bother him as he continued to pitch.
Nice arm: Astros catcher Jason Castro threw out two Rangers runners Friday. He got Andrus trying to steal after Andrus didn't get a good jump to end the third, and he nailed Martin on a pitch-out call to end the fifth.
Nice catch: Martin had the highlight of the night, making a diving catch to end the seventh inning.
Offensive issues: The Rangers couldn't do much with the bats, though they had some chances. The best might have been in the seventh, when the Rangers put two on with one out and had the bases loaded with two outs and couldn't score anything. Houston opted to intentionally walk Martin -- the first time that has happened in his young career -- to pitch to Wilson and Scott Feldman struck him out to end the frame. Give Feldman some credit. His curveball was working and he pitched very well only two days after his father died.
Hesitancy hurts: With Kouzmanoff at first, Moreland laced a ball to the gap in right-center in the second inning, but Kouzmanoff didn't get a good read on the ball and hesitated. He ended up at third base but might have had a chance to score had he been running right away. That put runners and second and third with one out, but J.P. Arencibia struck out, and Martin grounded out to end the threat.
Big hand for Nolan: Ryan, a Hall of Famer and former Rangers CEO, was at the ballpark on Friday night and sat next to former president George W. Bush in the owner's box (his usual place from the past handful of seasons). He was shown on the video board between innings early in the game and received a standing ovation (while "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" played as background music).
If there was one thing Darvish wanted to improve upon from last year's Cy Young runner-up finish, it was staying in games longer. There was plenty of discussion of pitch counts in relation to Darvish at various points. But the reality is that those counts climbed early in games, forcing him to exit earlier than he wanted.
That's an important stat for Darvish because, by getting ahead in the count, he put himself in an early advantage against the hitter and, consequently, be in position to get outs quicker. He had 20 at-bats on Sunday -- most of them outs, of course -- that lasted three pitches or fewer. And four of his six strikeouts were on three pitches. For a strikeout pitcher, that's also key in keeping the count low.
Darvish won't be throwing 89 pitches (or 65 strikes) in seven innings in many of his starts. But he averaged just under 6 2/3 innings per start last season. Not bad. But in many of those starts, he could have pitched longer if not for high counts earlier in games, caused somewhat about a lack of first-pitch strikes.
Darvish attacked with his fastball Sunday and got ahead much more often. The result was a pitcher that, despite not having pitched a game all season with neck stiffness, got through seven innings without even hitting 90 pitches. With Darvish's stuff, those are the kinds of numbers that can take him to the next level in 2014 as he stays in games longer.
Watch for that tonight against an Astros team that Darvish nearly threw a perfect game against in his first outing versus Houston last year.
"Another year older," Washington said. "I think they got a real good leader in Bo [Porter]. I think the mistakes that they may have made last year, they won't make as many."
The Astros finished last year 51-111, their third straight 100-loss season and worst of them all. The team is off to a 3-6 start this season, with two of their wins earned by Friday's starter Scott Feldman. Feldman has given up only one run in his first two starts, facing the New York Yankees on Opening Day and the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
"They're an improved team," Washington said. "How improved? I guess we just have to wait and see, but I don't think they're going to be anybody's doormat. You better come with your best game."
Darvish reflects: With Rangers starting pitcher Yu Darvish slated to square off against Feldman on Friday night in the first game of the Rangers' 10-game homestand, the right-hander was asked if he ever thinks back to his first start against the Astros last year.
"I don't remember much, but I don’t think I was in perfect condition," Darvis said through an interpreter. "I think I was as usual."
As usual? Darvish came one out away from the 24th perfect game in major league history, striking out 14 in what could only be described as a domination of the Astros lineup. It might be as usual for a pitcher of Darvish's caliber, but for many others that's a start many can't even dream of.
This time, Darvish will be coming off a strong start against the Tampa Bay Rays, throwing seven scoreless innings and getting his first win of the season. Darvish admitted after the start that he felt some fatigue but that he feels fine now and is excited to make his first start of the season at Globe Life Park.
"I look forward to starting in my home stadium in front of the stadium that has [the] most Texas fans," Darvish said.
Alex Rios: The Rangers' No. 5 hitter was the club's top run producer the first week of the season. Rios had five RBIs and three extra-base hits, including the only homer by anyone in that middle of the lineup. Rios didn't dominate headlines with names like Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo joining the lineup. But he's a critical component batting in that spot. (And I should throw in that Elvis Andrus has had a great week as well, but didn't quite have room for him this week.)
Shin-Soo Choo: He was brought in to get on base and he has done that. He's seeing a lot of pitches -- again, something he normally does -- and has found numerous ways to get on base. Heck, the guy had a walk-off walk last week. It was the first one for the Rangers since 1999.
Second base platoon: With Jurickson Profar out with the torn muscle in his shoulder, the Rangers are relying on Donnie Murphy and Josh Wilson to handle that spot right now. It's only one week, but both made contributions. Wilson has hit well in his three starts (5-for-8 with three RBIs) and Murphy showed his glove on Sunday, making a nice play in a close game with the Rays.
Starting rotation: Outside of Darvish, who was the sixth different starter to begin the season, the starting rotation wasn't what the Rangers had hoped. Nick Martinez did give them a quality start, but Tanner Scheppers and Joe Saunders struggled in their first starts. As a whole, the rotation had a 6.66 ERA in the first five games (again, that was BEFORE Darvish's excellent start on Sunday). We'll see if things get better for them this week.
Catchers at the plate: It wasn't as if the Rangers brought in Geovany Soto (who is now hurt) and J.P. Arencibia expecting huge offense. But Arencibia and backup catcher Robinson Chirinos haven't supplied much. Both catchers have just two hits between them (both by Arencibia).
Alexi Ogando: He has had a disappointing start to the season after losing his rotation job this spring. Ogando actually lowered his ERA on Sunday despite giving up a hit and a walk in the eighth inning and forcing Neal Cotts to come in and finish off the frame in a tight game. The Ogando who was so dominant just a few years ago hasn't shown up yet.
Meanwhile, across the Gulf of Mexico, the Rangers will try to build on a similar approach as they attempt to find a more consistent offense after Friday's 8-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays left them with eight runs over the past three games. Entering Saturday's contest against the Rays, the Rangers rank ninth in total bases (52) and tied for 11th in stolen bases (1) with four other teams in the American League.
"We've got to get more aggressive on the bases," Ron Washington said prior to Saturday's game. "We had opportunities to go first to third, to steal. It's a matter of trust. That has to become natural development and instinct."
Part of it is getting the right lead. Part of it is reading the way the batter hits the ball.
Ultimately, it's a matter of chemistry, the intangible connection between what the manager expects and allows and how the player responds. With several new players on the club, Washington respects the early learning curve and understands it might take time for his mentality to catch on.
But to speed up the learning process, Washington had third base coach Gary Pettis work with Jim Adduci, Michael Choice, Shin-Soo Choo and Leonys Martin on leads and running from first to third hours before the 6:10 first pitch.
"We had Gary out there working with them, and if he doesn't want you to take a chance, he'll scream at you to stay there," Washington said of Pettis, who had 354 stolen bases and scored 568 runs during his 14-year career. "We want to make them aware of how we run the bases, the proper read, proper secondary. Be willing to challenge somebody."
And that goes the same for a player like Prince Fielder, who admittedly made a mistake in Friday night's loss when he paused coming around third despite Pettis' go sign and ended up being tagged out in a rundown.
"Prince admitted he made a mistake," Washington said. "We don't care about them getting picked off, getting thrown out. We want them to be aggressive. We trying to get them to run. Don't play tentative. You never know what you can do unless you do it."
Martinez debut: Nick Martinez will make his major league debut when he starts for the Rangers on Saturday night. The Miami native plans on having 50 friends and family members at the game. The team purchased Martinez's contract from Double-A Frisco and added him to the 40-man roster. Daniel McCutchen was optioned to Frisco to make room for Martinez on the 25-man roster. McCutchen did not fare well in his Rangers debut Friday, when the right-hander allowed three runs, two earned over 2 1/3 innings against the Rays. Martinez combined to go 12-7 with a 2.50 ERA in 27 games (25 starts) with Myrtle Beach and Frisco in 2013, his third professional season.
Saunders update: Joe Saunders, who exited Friday's game in the fourth inning after being hit on the left ankle by a comeback line drive off Evan Longoria's bat, had a nasty bruise on his ankle Saturday. The pitcher said he rode the bike as part of his pregame routine. The team will determine his next start based on how he responds to bruise over next few days.
Lineup shuffle: Michael Choice makes his first start for the Rangers when he bats sixth in the order as the right-fielder. In addition, Alex Rios will bat as the designated hitter. Washington said he wanted to give the regular outfielders an opportunity to get off their feet, especially on the turf at Tropicana Field.
Darvish ready: Washington said Yu Darvish, who will make his first start Sunday after missing his schedule Opening Day start due to a stiff neck, will be able to pitch as long as he can Sunday.
"I think he can throw 100 pitches," Washington said. "It's all determined on how Tampa Bay battles him, how he gets through each inning. He's not going to be out there throwing 115 pitches, though."
In his first start last season, Darvish tossed 111 pitches in the memorable attempt to finish with a perfect game before it was broken up with two outs in the ninth. Washington insinuated on Saturday that Darvish would not go past the 100-pitch mark, even if Darvish is cruising along to more perfection.
"But he's going to be out there as long as he's effective," Washington said.
Profar fielding again: Jurickson Profar (shoulder) resumed fielding drills with Washington for the second consecutive day. Profar will travel with the team when the Rangers go to Boston to face the Red Sox in a three-game series starting Monday. Washington anticipates Profar doing more each day after the second-baseman took several ground balls on Satuday. "He just can't throw like he was in spring training, but he's starting to get there," Washington said.
Last, but not least: Catcher Chris Gimenez took the free agency route rather than accept an outright assigment to Round Rock.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Play Podcast Rangers GM Jon Daniels joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to tackle the tough questions after his team failed to advance to the playoffs.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss having Nelson Cruz back in the lineup and how the Rangers are feeling heading into their wild-card play-in game against the Rays.
Play Podcast ESPN Insider and senior MLB analyst Jim Bowden joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the wild-card race and the Rangers' chances of making the playoffs.
Play Podcast Chuck Cooperstein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why he feels Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish isn't an ace.
Play Podcast Elvis Andrus joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Rangers' stretch run and the morale level in their clubhouse.
Play Podcast Nolan Ryan joins Galloway and Company to discuss the latest Rangers news, including the team's struggles, Ron Washington's job security and a rumored trade with the Braves.
Play Podcast Ron Washington joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss the Rangers' dismal September, who's to blame for their September struggles and his status as the team's manager.
Play Podcast Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss how some people are calling for the Rangers to fire manager Ron Washington.