Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Hold the hype: Darvish's debut disappoints
By David Schoenfield
We'll have to wait another five days before Yu Darvish's impending superstardom explodes across the airwaves and cyberspace. Or maybe 10 days. Or, more likely, a month ... two months ... whatever it takes.
You see, in baseball, it's not so easy. You have to earn it. You want to be a sensation? Want to become the next Fidrych, the next Fernando, the next Nomo? The results come first. The hype follows. You aren't a creation; you have to create.
Darvish took the mound on a cloudy, 75-degree night in Arlington, Texas, for his first major league start. There was a buzz in the stadium, 42,000 strong in Ranger red and blue, ready to cheer on their half-Japanese, half-Iranian import, a pitcher Nolan Ryan determined was worth an investment of nearly $108 million.
But that's just money. That's no guarantee, either.
AROUND THE SWEETSPOT NETWORK
Bay City Ball
You're going to read a lot about Barry Zito's pitching today, and that's fine with me. You're going to read a lot about his complete game shutout against the Rockies that netted the Giants their first win of the 2012 campaign. Zito, for the most part, was masterful in today's win. His fastball didn't crack 85 mph, but he mixed in his offspeed stuff and kept the Rockies hitters off balanced the entire game. This is the blueprint game for Zito as a successful pitcher: Throw strikes, mix speeds, and keep the ball down.
In their opening series against the Orioles, the Twins didn't pitch especially well and they played some horrible defense. But without question, the story of the weekend was a complete lack of offense against a Baltimore staff that led the majors in runs allowed last year.
Last year, when Austin Jackson was lighting up the end of August and beginning of September, Tigers broadcasters Mario Impemba and Rod Allen could not stop raving about the second-year hitter being the team's fire-starter. Of course, the easy joke when he'd strike out -- and it was a lot -- was that he was just fanning the flames. Overall, Jackson experienced a significant decrease in his hitting line during his sophomore campaign and an even uglier postseason, inspiring him to work all winter with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon on developing a better approach at the plate.
So a big ovation greeted Darvish and we anticipated his 95 mph heat, his nasty cutter, a slider, a curveball, heck maybe even a Gyroball or two. After all, we'd read the reports; he had, what, six, seven, eight different pitches? We expected to see a sensation.
But it doesn't work that way in baseball.
Darvish proceeded to stink up the joint.
He walked Chone Figgins on four pitches. He fell behind the first five batters. He gave up four hits, walked three guys (to a team that had drawn six walks in its first four games), threw a wild pitch, gave up four runs and threw 42 pitches as the Mariners batted around.
This wasn't Fernandomania. Worse: It was a reminder of Daisuke Matsuzaka, another one-time "best pitcher in Japan" who came to the States and disappointed with his incessant nibbling at the corners, high pitch counts and less-spirited-than-advertised fastball.
In truth, Darvish was a little unlucky that inning. Ichiro Suzuki blooped a single over third base and Miguel Olivo blooped a single just over Ian Kinsler. And with the bases loaded and one out, Scott Feldman warming up in the 'pen, he escaped the jam by striking out Brendan Ryan on three pitches and retiring Figgins on a grounder to third.
He fared much better after that, giving up another run in the second inning but pitching scoreless ball thereafter into the sixth, retiring 10 in a row at one point. In truth, he didn't really pitch any better. In the third, he fell behind four of the five batters, getting out of a two-on jam when Dustin Ackley lined out to short. He fell behind 2-0 and 3-0 to Ichiro and Justin Smoak in the fourth. In the sixth, Ron Washington gave him a chance to finish the inning after he had walked Ackley on five pitches, but Ichiro singled and Alexi Ogando had to clean up the mess.
Darvish's final line: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 5 SO, 110 pitches, 59 strikes. He was credited with the win in the Rangers' 11-5 victory.
Considering this came against the majors' worst offensive team from the past two seasons, it wasn't impressive. Maybe it was nerves. Fair or not, however, Nolan Ryan didn't pay $108 million for a pitcher nervous about facing the Seattle Mariners in April, first game or not. He was all over the place, fastballs up and off the plate, offspeed stuff often down at the ankles. So, sure, maybe it was nerves. Or maybe, like Matsuzaka, he'll prove to be unwilling or unable to trust his stuff or pitch inside.
At this point, we just don't know. We won't know after his next start, this weekend against the Twins. We won't know for a while. In baseball, you have to justify your attention.
I happen to prefer it like this. Think about other sports. The most hyped player in the NFL this past season proved, in reality, to be nothing more than a backup quarterback, given away after the season for two low-round draft picks. Think of a hyped NBA prospect, such as John Wall. How's that working out for the Wizards?
Yes, we're seeing signs of this in baseball. Bryce Harper graced the cover of Sports Illustrated while still in high school. The expectations on him will be enormous and nearly impossible to live up to.
So maybe Darvish's debut is a good thing. We still have an empty canvas in front of us. It's up to him to paint the picture.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
You know the Phanatic would rather be in Philadelphia on Opening Day.