Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish

Rangers answer bell in opener vs. A's

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
2:51
AM CT
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington wanted to see how his team measured up Monday against the two-time defending American League West champion Oakland Athletics in their first meeting of the season.

The Rangers stood tall, overcoming an early 3-1 hole to beat the A's 4-3, but their victory might have come with a cost -- left fielder Shin-Soo Choo did not return to the field in the bottom of the seventh after suffering an ankle injury trying to beat out an infield single in the top of the inning.

[+] EnlargeShin-Soo Choo
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesShin-Soo Choo led off the game with a home run for Texas but later left with an injury.
Other than Choo's ailment -- which could force him to miss at least one game for a Texas team already beset by injury -- Washington liked most of what he saw from the Rangers against the A's, particularly the way they battled back to win the opener after falling behind by two runs in the second inning.

"You want to try to win the first one," Washington said. "I think we battle these guys pretty tough, but they've always found a way to pull it out on us. Tonight is just one ballgame. We got to come back tomorrow and we got to play just as well tomorrow as we did today. They're the division champs. It goes through them."

A pair of former A's -- third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and second baseman Donnie Murphy -- teamed up to produce the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, snapping a 3-3 tie.

Kouzmanoff, the reigning American League Player of the Week, led off with a double off the right-center wall against A's left-hander Sean Doolittle. First baseman Mitch Moreland moved Kouzmanoff to third with a sacrifice bunt, getting it down with two strikes. Then Murphy singled sharply to center off the hard-throwing Doolittle, bringing Kouzmanoff home.

"Every time you play Oakland you always know it's going to be a good series," Murphy said. "They're the top dog in the division right now, even though it's early. It's always nice to come in here and get that first win of the series. And to come from behind and take it from them, it was a good feeling."

Right-hander Yu Darvish wasn't at his best, but after giving up three runs in the second inning, he blanked the A's for the next four frames, escaping serious trouble twice. Darvish entered the game with a 1-6 career record against Oakland but got a no-decision. He said he has learned not to let his emotions derail him against the A's.

"I don't really have good numbers in this stadium, but compared to last year I think I've matured mentally to battle these situations," Darvish said. "I decided I would not get frustrated and irritated and I would focus on the hitter."

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 4, A's 3

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
12:57
AM CT


OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Texas Rangers overcame an early 3-1 deficit to defeat the Oakland A's 4-3 Monday night in the opener of a three-game series against the two-time defending American League West champions.

Rangers third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a leadoff double in the eighth against his former team, moved to third on Mitch Moreland's sacrifice bunt and scored on Donnie Murphy's sharp single to center, giving Texas a 4-3 lead.

Another no-decision: Right-hander Yu Darvish gave up three runs on eight hits over six innings and received his third straight no-decision. Considering his past luck against Oakland, Darvish can't complain. Darvish entered the game 1-6 with a 4.30 ERA in seven career starts against the A's. He was 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA in two career starts at the O.co Coliseum.

One bad inning: Darvish gave up three runs in the third inning, allowing a leadoff homer to Brandon Moss, a double to Eric Sogard and a two-run single to Coco Crisp. He had 48 pitches through two innings. Darvish stranded two baserunners in the third and escaped a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth, striking out A's third baseman Josh Donaldson.

What a relief: Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts, Alexi Ogando and Joakim Soria combined to blank the A's over the final three innings. Soria got the save and Cotts the victory. With one out in the ninth, A's shortstop Jed Lowrie reached second on shortstop Elvis Andrus' two-base throwing error, but Soria retired Donaldson on a fly ball to center and Yoenis Cespedes on a fly ball to left.

Deep thoughts: Rangers left-fielder Shin-Soo Choo led off the game with a home run. It was Choo's 12th career leadoff home run and his first of the season. Choo, acquired as a free agent in December, drilled right-hander Dan Straily's 2-2 pitch over the right-field wall for his second homer of the season.

In support of Darvish: In his first three starts, Darvish allowed just two runs over 22.0 innings but went 1-0 with two no-decisions and never threw a pitch with a Rangers run on the scoreboard. His only two runs of support came in the top half of an inning before he left the game for a reliever. Choo ended that streak with his leadoff homer, and the Rangers added a run in the fourth and one in the fifth. That marked a season-high three runs of support for Darvish.

More signs of life: First baseman Prince Fielder went 2-for-4 with a double, drove in a run and scored a run as he continued fighting his way out of a slump. In the fifth inning with two out and runners at first and third, Fielder lined an RBI single to right, snapping an 0-for-9 skid with runners in scoring position.

No answer for Moss: Moss sent Darvish's first pitch in the second inning -- a belt-high fastball -- high and deep over the right-field wall for a home run. Moss homering off Darvish came as no surprise. He entered the game 5-for-15 with three home runs and five RBIs against Darvish. Now he has four career home runs off Darvish, tying the Angels' Mike Trout for the most by any opposing hitter.

After further review: In the top of the seventh, Choo beat out a ground ball for a single off left-hander Fernando Abad, but the call was overturned after a video review. To make matters worse, Choo hurt his left ankle when he landed hard on the bag. During the review, he went to the dugout and had his ankle taped, but he was replaced in the bottom of the seventh by former A's outfielder Michael Choice, who singled and stole second in the ninth.

Andrus' tough luck: Andrus singled and scored in the fifth inning and has now hit safely in 18 of 20 games to start the season. He also lined out to left field in the third and was robbed of extra bases in the seventh when A's center fielder Crisp made a leaping catch of Andrus' drive to left center. If the ball had eluded Crisp, Andrus might have had an inside-the-park home run.

Up next: Rangers rookie right-hander Nick Martinez (0-0, 4.50 ERA) will make his second career start Tuesday night in Game 2 of the three-game series. He'll face A's left-hander Tommy Milone (0-1, 4.09). First pitch is scheduled for 9:05 p.m. on ESPN 103.3 FM and Fox Sports Southwest.

W2W4: Rangers' first trip to Oakland

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
1:00
PM CT
RangersTom Pennington/Getty ImagesWill Kevin Kouzmanoff and Prince Fielder's bats stay hot as the Rangers head to Oakland?
The Texas Rangers and Oakland A's face each other for the first three games of 19 between the two this season. The A's are the two-time defending AL West champions and once again find themselves at the top of the division. The Rangers, thanks to a solid homestand, are right with the A's, making this series particularly interesting this early in the season. A few things to watch:

* Bullpens. Oakland has had one of the best bullpens in the big leagues for years, but it's gone through some flux this year. Still, the A's relief ERA is second to the Red Sox in the AL. Jim Johnson lost his closer job after a rough start, but the A's have cobbled together enough arms to get the job done. The Rangers' bullpen had a slow start, but has come on of late as players have figured out their roles. Alexi Ogando has improved and has provided some late-inning relief to get the game to closer Joakim Soria. If these games are close -- and they should be -- watch those bullpens.

* Yu Darvish. The Rangers' ace goes Monday to lead off the series in a place where he hasn't had much success. In two starts in Oakland (one in each of the last two years), Darvish is 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA. Walks have been the biggest reason as he's had 12 in those two starts (10 1/3 innings) and three homers allowed. He has just eight strikeouts in those outings.

* Run support. Darvish has allowed just two runs in 22 innings this season and has just two runs of support. Can the offense give him a little more to work with in Oakland? Two of the hitters that bother Darvish the most are Alberto Callaspo and Brandon Moss, who are both hitting over .300 in their careers off Darvish.

(Read full post)

Extra Bases: Darvish's Oakland nightmare

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
7:45
AM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Yu Darvish will have to deal not only with the American League West-leading Oakland A's in Monday’s 9:05 p.m. opener of a six-game road trip. He’ll also be pitching in his most uncomfortable statistical setting.

In two career starts at Overstock.com Coliseum, Darvish is 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA. In 10.1 innings, he has walked 12 and allowed 11 hits, including three home runs.

"Oakland has put some big innings on him," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "And it has usually started with a walk. I remember once it started when he hit a guy.

"It comes down to execution," Washington said. "He’ll figure it out."

Oakland is responsible for a third of Darvish’s 18 career losses. His overall record against the A’s is 1-6 with a 4.30 ERA.

Darvish will take an 0.82 ERA and a 1-0 record to Oakland this time. His win total could easily be higher with any kind of run support. In three starts, he is yet to throw a pitch with any Rangers runs on the scoreboard.

"His job is to keep us in ballgames," Washington said. "He can’t do anything about the other part of it."

Running diary: King Felix vs. Darvish

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:18
PM CT


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.

First inning

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.

[+] EnlargeYu Darvish
AP Photo/Brandon Wade
I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a perfect pitcher’s build, but if I could sculpt a pitcher out of Italian marble, he would look like Darvish -- tall and lean with a regal appearance, his uniform tailored perfectly. It’s a small data sample, but Darvish may be making one major change to his approach from last season, throwing more four-seam fastballs and fewer cutters. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Darvish threw 35 percent fastballs last year and 16 percent cutters. Through his first two starts, those numbers were 61 and 4. This makes sense; the cutter was his weakest pitch last year as opponents hit .271/.357/.500 against it. If he can command the four-seamer, he can ditch the cutter considering he still has his slider and curveball as wipeout pitches (plus an occasional splitter and even a big slow curve).

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.

* * * *

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.

Second inning

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.

Fourth inning

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.

* * * *

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.

Sixth inning

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.)

Seventh inning

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.

Eighth inning

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.

* * * *

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?

Ninth inning

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.

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 3, Mariners 2

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
9:59
PM CT


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.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington insists that he's following his rotation at catcher and that's why Robinson Chirinos gets his first opportunity to catch ace Yu Darvish from the start of a game tonight.

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."
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It happens a handful of times throughout the year, so you learn to cherish it: ace versus ace at Globe Life Park tonight.

Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez have pitched against each other before, doing so twice in 2012.

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Back then, Darvish was a big league rookie still trying to find his way. And it showed in both of their matchups. Darvish's numbers: 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA (11 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings), nine strikeouts and 10 walks. Meanwhile, Hernandez allowed one run in 17 innings, with 19 strikeouts, two walks and a complete game.

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.

(Read full post)

W2W4: Ace vs. ace on Wednesday

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
1:09
PM CT
Darvish/HernandezGetty ImagesIf the rotations stay in order, Yu Darvish will face off against Felix Hernandez on Wednesday.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners will face off for four games starting tonight at Globe Life Park. Seattle comes in on top of the American League West, a surprise early run for a team that spent some money this offseason, headlined by the acquisition of Robinson Cano. A few things to watch during the series:

* 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.

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* The baseball world will be watching Wednesday night if the rotations stay in order as we get the very attractive ace matchup of 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.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Rangers 1, Astros 0

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
4:25
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- That's 15 straight series wins over the Houston Astros for the Texas Rangers as they secure their second 1-0 win in the past three days. It was the first time in club history that Texas had two 1-0 wins in the same series and the first time for two 1-0 games in the same series since 1982 vs. Boston Red Sox. Martin Perez pitched eight shutout innings and Alexi Ogando got the save in the ninth. Texas now has three shutout wins in the first 12 games of the season and they move to .500 on the season. Some quick thoughts:

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.

Rangers monitoring rainy conditions

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
12:39
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Mother Nature has made things wet at Globe Life Park and as of 90 minutes prior to the first pitch, the tarp was on the field and rain was falling. But Rangers PA announcer Chuck Morgan told those in attendance that the club expected rain for 60 or 90 minutes, ending maybe around 2 p.m., and then a clearing for a time after that. No word on the game time.

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.

Yu Darvish getting smarter, better

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
12:03
AM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Here's a scary thought for American League batters: Yu Darvish is only getting better.

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.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers have played four games in Arlington. They've won three of them in walk-off fashion. And Robinson Chirinos was the hero in the 12th inning. His single to right scored Kevin Kouzmanoff from second -- who got there by staying aggressive and getting to second on a ball in the dirt -- to give the Rangers a 1-0 win over the Houston Astros.

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).

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Fitzsimmons and Durrett: Jon Daniels

Rangers GM Jon Daniels joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to tackle the tough questions after his team failed to advance to the playoffs.

Galloway & Company: Nolan Ryan

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.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Jim Bowden

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.

Fitzsimmons and Durrett: Chuck Cooperstein

Chuck Cooperstein joins Ian Fitzsimmons and Tim MacMahon to discuss why he feels Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish isn't an ace.

Galloway & Company: Elvis Andrus

Elvis Andrus joins Galloway and Company to discuss the Rangers' stretch run and the morale level in their clubhouse.

Galloway & Company: Nolan Ryan

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.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Ron Washington

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.

Fitzsimmons & Durrett: Fire Wash?

Fitzsimmons and Durrett discuss how some people are calling for the Rangers to fire manager Ron Washington.

TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Alex Rios
BA HR RBI R
.318 1 11 9
OTHER LEADERS
HRS. Choo 2
RBIA. Rios 11
RE. Andrus 14
OPSS. Choo .932
WM. Perez 4
ERAM. Perez 1.42
SOY. Darvish 29