First Pitch: Land of the Rising Sun

April, 24, 2012
4/24/12
7:00
AM ET
An entire nation will rise early to see two of its proudest baseball exports, Hiroki Kuroda and Yu Darvish, face off in just the seventh matchup of Japanese-born starting pitchers in major-league baseball history.

The 8 a.m. start will be a national event in Japan, but here in Arlington, it might even be more than that. It might be an opportuntity for the Yankees, who came here curious and a bit wary about the 13-3 Texas Rangers, to win this series and maybe even engineer a sweep.

That is because after beating Derek Holland Monday night, they face a pitcher in Darvish of the type they might be able to do some damage against. Not because his stuff is in any way lacking; quite the contrary, even Joe Girardi seemed intrigued by the prospect of watching a young pitcher who can not only bring it in a hurry -- Darvish hits 96 on th egun -- but is said to have a repertoire of seven pitches, each nastier than the one before it.

The thing is, in the early stages of his U.S. baseball career, Darvish seems to have an Achilles heel that plays right into the Yankees greatest strength. He throws a lot of pitches. They take a lot of pitches.
Together, that could make for a very difficult night for a 25-year-old rookie.

In his three starts so far, Darvish has had trouble with the American strike zone, averaging 4-1/3 walks per game and carrying a virtual 1:1 strikeout-to-walks ratio. Plus, his escalating pitch counts -- 110 in his first game, 102 in his second, 121 in his third -- have limited him to less than six innings in his first two starts, and 6-1/3 in his most recent, which was also his first big league win.

You can bet Plan A will be patience tonight, and plenty of it. The Yankees will try to make Darvish work, and work, and work. And on the other side, they have to hope that Kuroda, who looked great in the home opener at Yankee Stadium against the Angels but underwhelming in his other two appearances, can contain the explosive Rangers lineup.

It's a tall order for Kuroda, but no tougher than the assignment Darvish faces.

The Yankees want to get a look at the Japanese sensation. A good, long look. That's the key to victory tonight, and maybe, the key to striking an important early blow in this battle of potential ALCS opponents come October.

The Question: Who do you have more confidence in tonight? The Yankee hitters' ability to wear down Darvish, or Kuroda's ability to keep the Rangers at bay?

Up Now: My column on Derek Jeter's big night, and what seems to be fueling his red-hot April.

Coming soon: Mark Simon with another What2Watch4 for tonight's game. Plus, I'll be in the clubhouse when it opens at 4:40 New York time; tonight's game starts at 8:05 p.m. All day blogging to follow. We expect a report on Michael Pineda's MRI this afternoon.

Question No. 2: Jeter is hitting .411 right now, but what do you think is a realistic number for him this season? .300? .325? .350? Is it possible that at 38 years old, DJ might even contend for a batting title? Let us know below, and thanks for reading.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
Follow Wallace on Twitter »  Chat archive »

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?

TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
12 2.51 135 129
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .289
HRM. Teixeira 17
RBIM. Teixeira 48
RB. Gardner 61
OPSB. Gardner .787
ERAM. Tanaka 2.51
SOM. Tanaka 135