Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish
Harrison's tightness is also a reminder that after three surgeries last year, there are no guarantees for the left-handed pitcher.
* LHP Derek Holland continues to rehab and progress, but as of now, the timeline is still about midseason. Holland could be a nice boost at that point for the rotation, but that's assuming he's healthy and ready. That won't be known for a few months.
* RHP Neftali Feliz, who was the favorite to close coming into camp, hasn't wrapped his hands firmly around the job yet. The velocity that reports showed he had in winter ball haven't shown up on any radar guns in Arizona. Feliz doesn't seem concerned and says he's building up arm strength and focused on secondary pitches, but he doesn't look like the guy that the Rangers were so excited about when spring started.
Four hits in the second inning produced two runs, and even though Darvish pitched only two innings, he left with a 2-0 lead. It stretched to 4-0 -- thanks, in part, to a laser home run by Prince Fielder to right field -- before Tommy Hanson took the mound for the bottom of the third inning.
“I knew that our offense was going to help me this year, but this is only the first game of spring training,” Darvish said through interpreter Kenji Nimura. “I know that the opposing pitcher is still preparing, so I’m not too worried about it right now. I’m more concentrated on how I’m preparing for this spring training.”
Darvish, who gave up two hits (one on a broken bat) and had four strikeouts against the Kansas City Royals, averaged 4.81 runs of support in 2013. To put that in perspective, Justin Verlander got more than 5 ½ runs per start. Cy Young winner Max Scherzer got a whopping 6.80.
Darvish’s lack of run support was even more alarming was in close games. A total of 18 of Darvish’s 32 starts were decided by two runs or fewer. Darvish had a 2.53 ERA in those games, yet the Rangers scored just 2.3 runs per game in those 18 contests and hit .208. With runners in scoring position, Texas hit .165 with 33 strikeouts, 20 hits and no homers. Not surprisingly, Darvish went 6-12.
We’ve chronicled how much the Rangers struggled to score first in games last year. The offense also wasn’t one to score early as often as it would like. In Darvish’s 32 starts, the Rangers scored 11 runs in the first inning. They scored first when he was on the mound in 16 starts – exactly half. If they could improve on both numbers in 2014, it would give Darvish a chance to pitch with the lead right away, something every pitcher knows is a benefit.
Yu Darvish gets the start today against left-hander Bruce Chen. For Darvish, it's his first start against hitters who aren't wearing Rangers uniforms. He's slated to throw two innings or 35 pitches.
Manager Ron Washington is starting a bunch of his regulars. Alex Rios (toe) feels better but won't play, and catcher Geovany Soto (foot surgery) is still in a boot. Jurickson Profar (shoulder) will DH. But the lineup should still look familiar:
LF Shin-Soo Choo/Bryan Petersen
SS Elvis Andrus/Josh Wilson
1B Prince Fielder/Jim Adduci
3B Adrian Beltre/Alex Castellanos
DH Mitch Moreland/Jurickson Profar
C J.P. Arencibia/Robinson Chirinos
RF Michael Choice/Brad Snyder
2B Adam Rosales/Brent Lillibridge
CF Leonys Martin/Engel Beltre
RHP Yu Darvish
RHP Tommy Hanson
LHP Ryan Feierabend
RHP Justin Germano
RHP Lisalverto Bonilla
Shin-Soo Choo (Korea), CF Leonys Martin (Cuba), RF Alex Rios (Puerto Rico).
The infield: 1B Prince Fielder (United States), 2B Jurickson Profar (Curacao), 3B Adrian Beltre (Dominican Republic), SS Elvis Andrus (Venezuela)
The battery: RHP Yu Darvish (Japan), C Geovany Soto (Puerto Rico)
"I'm just putting baseball players out there on the field," Washington said. "I never really thought of that, but you're right."
Washington was asked what it would take for that many cultures to be a cohesive unit.
"The same mindset," Washington said. "Wanting to win, be a good teammate, exhibit good character, attitude, all the things it takes in a normal clubhouse. I think we have those kinds of guys. I don't think our clubhouse is going to be an issue.
"Baseball is baseball. All of those guys are good players and they all have one goal in mind: being the best they can be for each other. That's where the cohesiveness comes in."
“Yu is the kind of guy that doesn’t show a lot of emotion, but he was excited in what he said,” Washington said. “He’s going to work his tail off to make certain he does a good job and represent well.”
Darvish is coming off a runner-up finish in the American League Cy Young balloting after posting a 2.83 ERA in 209 2/3 innings (32 starts) with a league-leading 277 strikeouts.
He is the fifth different Opening Day starter for the club in the last five years. Matt Harrison, who won 18 games in 2012, got the nod ahead of Darvish last year.
Houston Astros was broken up by a single up the middle with two outs in the ninth.
Washington said the move is just another reminder that the 27-year-old Darvish is the rotation leader.
“There’s no doubt that he’s our horse,” Washington said.
Darvish threw one inning in an intrasquad game Monday and said he feels good. Darvish received an injection to deal with lower-back pain right after the season, but said the discomfort dissipated in mid-January.
And with Monday's news that Matt Harrison is "unlikely" to be ready to join the rotation when the season starts (there was good news in that Harrison's MRIs were clean), Hanson becomes even more important. He's expected to challenge for a rotation job and so far, he feels like he's building his arm strength and working toward improving.
Hanson threw one inning -- 11 pitches (eight strikes) -- Monday and got two strikeouts.
"Command was good, it felt really good," Hanson said. "I threw a changeup in there, a couple of good sliders, a good curve ball and I threw my fastball where I wanted it. It was a good first one."
* Darvish threw one slider and it was a nasty one to Brent Lillibridge. One scout said: "It's almost unfair that he can throw that pitch this early in spring."
* 3B Joey Gallo had a single in his only at-bat, driving in a run. Just an observation, but he looks even bigger this spring. And I mean that as a compliment. He's just a big guy, but he can move.
* LHP Pedro Figueroa has good stuff, but was inconsistent. He gave up four runs on six hits in one-third of an inning of work, but ended up getting the win. Scouts like that Figeuroa throws in the mid 90s and has breaking stuff with movement.
* The Rangers worked on situational hitting after every half-inning, sticking a runner somewhere and making the batter put the ball in play in the right spot.
* OF Engel Beltre was the only player to have two hits, going 2-for-3 with two runs scored as Team Buechele beat Team Bogar, 7-4.
LF Shin-Soo Choo
SS Elvis Andrus/Luis Sardinas
1B Ronald Guzman
3B Alex Castellanos
RF Brad Snyder
2B Adam Rosales/Rougned Odor
C J.P. Arencibia/Jose Felix
DH Jurickson Profar
CF Leonys Martin
RHP Yu Darvish
2B Kensuke Tanaka
SS Brent Lillibridge
1B Jim Adduci
DH Rougned Odor
CF Michael Choice
LF Bryan Petersen
3B Josh Wilson
C Robinson Chirinos/Brett Nicholas
RF Engel Beltre
The full list of pitchers (all throwing one inning) is the same as was scheduled Saturday. Click here.
"He threw a handful of them and got some swings-and-misses," Maddux said. "It was starting in the strike zone, but wasn't staying there. That's what he want. He's getting there."
Tepesch knows it's a work in progress and that he must continue to throw the pitch often in spring training to gain the confidence to use it in games.
"It's not quite where it needs to be yet," Tepesch said. "I'm getting more comfortable with it the more I throw it. I probably threw it six times in that session. I'm not trying to have a ton of movement to it, because I think if it does it's going to be easier to pick up. I want to have enough weapon to attack hitters with and a change-of-pace pitch from my slider or curve."
Tepesch said he wants to throw it to hitters on either side. The 25-year-old right-hander is pleased with how he's performed so far in camp and is focused on continuing to build his arm strength and get his command more consistent.
* RHP Yu Darvish told Japanese media that he wasn't as thrilled with his fastball command on Saturday as he was on Thursday. But catcher J.P. Arencibia was pleased with Darvish's changeup. Darvish is scheduled to start the first Cactus League game for the Rangers next week.
* Elvis Andrus' team padded its lead in the situational hitting contest. Andrus thinks they are about 17 or 18 points up, which is a large margin with one game left. The loser must buy lunch for the entire team and staff at the complex.
The other big thing that would help him reduce pitch counts: Throw strike one. Darvish threw a strike on his first pitch 57 percent of the time. That ranked near the bottom of all AL starters. If he can get that percentage up -- even to 60 or more -- it would make a huge difference.
But the other big theme from 2013 was Darvish's lack of run support, particularly in close games. Here are some numbers -- thanks to Brandon Mendoza of ESPN's research team for digging these up -- about Darvish in one- or two-run games:
* Darvish had 18 of his 32 starts decided by two runs or fewer in 2013.
* Darvish was 3-6 (nine no decisions) with a 2.53 ERA, .179 opponent batting average and 12.3 strikeouts-per-nine innings pitched in games decided by two runs or fewer.
* The Rangers were 6-12 in Darvish games decided by two runs or fewer and scored 2.3 runs per game with a .208 batting average and more than eight strikeouts per game in those contests.
* Texas hit .165 with runners in scoring position -- 33 strikeouts and 20 hits with no homers (yep, no homers and 13 more strikeouts than hits with RISP) -- in those 18 games.
So while Darvish must bear down and attempt to improve late in those close games, he needs an offense that can score some runs in the clutch, too. It's a point of emphasis for the bats this spring.
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It might be a bit of folly, asking how a guy who finished runner-up in the AL Cy Young balloting and came within one out of a perfect game can improve on the mound in 2014. But the reality is Darvish can improve. He knows it and so do his coaches.
It starts with fastball command. The more consistent that becomes, the better chance Darvish has of limiting his pitch count.
"Command of the fastball is like a snowball: It gets bigger," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "If I get fastball command, I command the counts. If I command the counts, I command the at-bat. If I command the at-bat, I command the inning."
Manager Ron Washington blames Darvish's high pitch counts on a large number of foul balls. Nevermind that Darvish is a strikeout pitcher and those hurlers generally throw more pitches.
"He's tough to square up," Maddux said. "He just induces a ton of foul balls. Sometimes you say, 'What can we do?' We hope for forward contact instead of side-to-side contact. It would be lovely to throw a pitch and have a guy put it in play and get an out."
It was just three years ago that the idea of Darvish talking to the media early in spring meant a hundred or so people cramming into a white tent outside the Rangers' clubhouse just to hear what he might say. The tent is still there, but it was more around 30 folks in attendance Tuesday for what has become an annual rite of spring training.
That includes left-handed pitcher Matt Harrison, who threw 44 pitches in a bullpen session on Sunday and was pleased with how he's feeling.
Yu Darvish, who had an injection in his back at the end of last season, threw 34 pitches on Sunday and is listed as fully healthy.
Colby Lewis likely throws his first bullpen on Monday, but will do so on schedule. After coming off hip surgery, Lewis has been throwing at his home and the club lists him as "full go." The hip resurfacing was a rare procedure on a pitcher (in fact, there's no record of an active pitcher having it), so everyone will be paying close attention to Lewis' progress.
Other injury notes:
The Rangers are in the process of adding an external option to the rotation race, agreeing to terms on a minor-league deal with Tommy Hanson, pending a physical, according to sources. One source said it's likely that Hanson would make one salary at the big-league level and another at the minor league level, depending on whether he makes the club. You can read more about Hanson here.
But the club also has some internal options already set to compete for the rotation, which currently consists of Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando. Not only does the club need to find that final starter, but also see what kind of depth options exist if another injury pops up (and it inevitably will). Let's take a brief look at some of the internal possibilities for the rotation:
Nick Tepesch: The right-handed hurler has worked on a changeup this offseason that he hopes to incorporate more into his repertoire, which includes a sinker and slider. He was 4-6 with a 4.84 ERA in 17 starts and two relief appearances. But if Tepesch, who doesn't throw particularly hard, can add the changeup and mix his pitches, he believes he can show quick and marked improvement.
Michael Kirkman: He went from spring training star to struggling starter in a span of a month. It was an odd 2013. The 27-year-old was dominant in spring training and looked poised for a solid season in the bullpen. But he was 0-2 with an 8.18 ERA in 22 innings and a 2.318 WHIP. No reliever with at least eight innings pitched had a worse WHIP.
Kirkman looked at video and worked with his coaches and quickly discovered it was all mental. He is confident he's in a better place, thanks to hard work and some tweaks in his mechanics that he him feeling more comfortable.
Robbie Ross: He went to winter ball knowing that he needed some more work to be in the best position to compete for a starting job, something he really wants to do. The lefty struggled against left-handed batters last year, something he'll have to improve upon to be a viable starter. He's now had a couple of spring trainings and knows what to expect, not to mention some important experience over the past two seasons in the bullpen. It will be interesting to see how much winter ball helped him and how he does this spring.
Tanner Scheppers: The youngster is realistic about his desires for the 2014 season: He wants to start or close. Those are his goals. But he comes into spring training stretched out to start and that's his focus. Scheppers did well as a setup man last year and could end up in that role again. He was 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP, bouncing back in September after a rough August. Scheppers has started before in his career, making seven starts at Triple-A in 2010. But he's been a primarily a reliever since then.
Colby Lewis: Remember him? The veteran is hoping to make a comeback and the Rangers are excited by what they've seen on video of Lewis throwing at his home. He'll be on a different schedule from the other pitchers as he comes back from hip surgery, but we'll see how far he can come in one spring training. Lewis, of course, has vastly more experience than the other candidates and was the club's top postseason pitcher in 2010 and 2011 as the team went to two consecutive World Series. Lewis hoped to return last year and it just didn't happen. But he's ready to put two years of injuries behind him. He's a wild card in that it's unclear how soon he'll be ready.
Others will likely emerge and we'll see if the Rangers bring any additional arms to camp in addition to Hanson. But that final rotation spot should be one of the biggest storylines of the spring.
Martin Perez was going to face some pressure to validate his 2013 campaign anyway, but thanks to a boxer named Wrigley, the pressure just went up.
Wrigley is Derek Holland's dog and his sprint up the stairs and a clipping of Holland's legs resulted in knee surgery. The timetable for Holland's return is midseason. But that's all dependent on how well he recovers.
There's plenty of talk about who will take his place and that's another question we'll get to next week. But part of that is how Perez performs.
For years, Perez was considered one of the club's top pitching prospects. He worked his way up, only to run into command issues and lack of consistency. But when the call came for him to earn a rotation spot for good in June, he was ready. Perez was 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA in 20 starts. He pitched 124 innings and said he learned a lot about what it takes to be successful.
Perez was a nice surprise for the Rangers in 2013. They need him to be a consistent performer for the entire 2014 season. Last year earned him a permanent spot in the rotation and a long-term contract.
Perez showed he could pitch with more consistent command, dropping his walk total to 37 in 124 1/3 innings. Last year, he walked 15 in just 38 big league innings. He pitched with confidence and kept his team in games.
Now he has to do it in 2013, especially with Holland out for half the year. In a sense, Perez moves up to the No. 3 spot now behind Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison. And with Harrison having to come back from a season in which surgeries limited him to just two starts, Perez is critical to the rotation's success, coming in without any health issues.
Perez won't come to spring training trying to earn a job. He'll come knowing it's all about preparing for a big 2014.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- We've seen some big-time contracts given out to pitchers this offseason. Clayton Kershaw, fresh off his second NL Cy Young Award, agreed to a seven-year, $215 million deal, the richest ever handed out for a pitcher. Yes, that's a stout $30.7 million on average per year.
Heck, Masahiro Tanaka, who has not thrown a pitch in the majors and isn't considered by most scouts to be as good as Yu Darvish, was handed a seven-year, $155 million deal by the New York Yankees, who then paid his Japanese team another $20 million.
Both contracts, along with a host of others, make Darvish look like a huge bargain at six years and $56 million guaranteed. The Rangers, of course, invested another $51.7 million in a posting bid (and could give Darvish another $4 million if he's healthy in the final years of the deal). But the posting fee went to Darvish's team. Darvish could end up with 99 million fewer dollars in his pocket than Tanaka. That's incredible.
The Rangers hope Darvish uses that as motivation to continue to be one of the top pitchers in the league and, subsequently, end up making top dollar because of it.
All this contract talk brings up the inevitable question: When should the Rangers start talking contract extension with Darvish?
"The sky is the limit for him," Maddux said. "He's got four quality pitches. He's pitched now over here for two years. Hopefully, he's a lot more relaxed and Americanized, or however you want to say it. I think if he continues to be better and wants to be better, there's no telling how well he can do."
Maddux said he believes Darvish is "one of the top pitchers in the game" right now, adding that the numbers "could be sky-high for him." General manager Jon Daniels has credited Maddux with helping Darvish on the mental side of the game. Maddux instead gave Darvish the credit.
"I think you have to figure it out on your own, and I think that's what he's doing and what he'll continue to do," Maddux said. "I can't really sit here and say I helped him. Every pitch he threw, he threw. Every good fastball and good slider he threw last year, he did that by himself. I think he's no different than most pitchers. I think if you can focus on the right things, I think you'll be able to make better pitches more consistently. I think sometimes we get away from that as players, and it's just good to be reminded sometimes on what the right things to concentrate on are."
Darvish is in Japan preparing for his third season in the big leagues. He's coming off a 2013 campaign in which he was 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA in 209 2/3 innings pitched. He led the league with 277 strikeouts and was the runner-up to Max Scherzer for the AL Cy Young Award. If there was anything he could improve upon (and it's tough to find those things), it is his ability to hold leads late. He didn't get consistent offensive support from his team, but he also gave away some leads late in close, low-scoring games.
Still, that's a nitpick after a terrific season in which he proved, once again, that he could make the adjustment from playing in Japan to getting big league hitters out. Maddux mentioned that Darvish paved the way for Masahiro Tanaka, who just received a seven-year, $155 million deal (he can opt-out after four years) from the New York Yankees.
And Darvish has a Hall of Famer convinced that he's only going to get better.
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.