Yu Darvish gets to work with Rangers
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- At one point, with all the cameras clicking inside a crammed meeting room of more than 120 media at Surprise Recreation Complex on Thursday afternoon, Japanese pitcher star Yu Darvish wondered what all the fuss was about.
"Am I the type of player that should get all this attention? I still don't know," said Darvish through a translator during his first news conference of spring training.
Of course, no one knows for sure. But after spending $51.7 million on a posting bid and $60 million ($56 million guaranteed) on a six-year deal, the Texas Rangers sure think so. And judging by the huge number of television cameras, still photographers, reporters and fans that followed Darvish's every move on the first official day of workouts for pitchers and catchers, the attention isn't going away any time soon.
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"I'm not here to play around," Darvish said. "I'm here to play baseball."
Darvish says he's used to all the attention and won't let it bother him. His father, Farsad Darvishsefat (shortened to Darvish), who watched his son navigate fielding practice, a bullpen session and throwing to hitters on Thursday, agrees.
"Since junior high school he's been with the media you're seeing around like it is here," Farsad said. "He tries to command when he wants to talk and when he doesn't. His concern is winning. If he's winning, the media is fine. He's not there to satisfy the media, no offense. He has to win, otherwise you guys won't be around either."
But wins and losses don't count for another six weeks or so. Until then, Darvish's job is to get acclimated to a new team and country and figure out the best way to adjust to a different baseball and learn how to succeed against the best hitters the game has to offer.
Thursday was the first official day toward that goal. Darvish chatted with some of his teammates in the clubhouse, including Double-A pitcher Justin Miller, two years younger than Darvish and one of his lockermates.
"He's a really nice guy and really big too," Miller said. "I'm 6-3 and it feels like he towers over me."
Darvish has that kind of presence, at 6-foot-5 and about 220 pounds. He walked with teammates Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando and Derek Holland to the field around 9:45 a.m. MT. As he trotted to the half-football field for stretching, a group of photographers sprinted after him, hoping to get the best shot.
"It was a little postseason pandemonium at spring training," pitching coach Mike Maddux said.
Darvish then threw off flat ground with Holland, his throwing partner this spring. After that, he headed over to fielding practice and worked on quickly getting off the mound, pouncing on ground balls, choppers and bunts, and making accurate throws to first and third.
"You're a pickin' machine," said manager Ron Washington, one of the highest compliments the skipper pays to his defenders.
Moments later, it was Darvish's turn to take the mound. Mike Napoli asked to catch Darvish, wanting an early look at the newest Ranger starter. He caught a five-minute bullpen session and a five-minute throwing session to hitters. Napoli said Darvish threw a full assortment of pitches that included a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider, curveball, changeup and splitter.
"You could tell he has good command," Napoli said. "When he throws one not where he wants it, you can tell he's not happy about it. They're only going at 80 percent right now, but the ball comes out of his hand good. I was real impressed."
Darvish threw 19 pitches to a group of minor leaguers that included Jurickson Profar and Ryan Strausborger. Profar didn't even take a swing and smiled when he was asked if he was tracking pitches.
Am I the type of player that should get all this attention? I still don't know.” -- Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish
"He looked good," Profar said. "He's got great command."
Rangers Triple-A pitching coach Terry Clark had one of the better views of the outing, watching from the base of the mound as Darvish threw. Clark liked what he saw.
"He threw the ball to both sides of the plate," Clark said. "It was a nice, easy motion. It was really good for the first day. He came to camp ready to throw."
During his first bullpen session on Tuesday, catcher Luis Martinez noted that Darvish was apologizing when he didn't hit his spots. That didn't happen Thursday.
"He didn't miss too many spots so he didn't have to apologize," Clark said. "His demeanor was fine and he was going about his business. He was locked in on what he wanted to do. He's athletic."
When he was finished, Darvish walked off the field and was swarmed by fans hoping to get his autograph. The Rangers had increased security on all the fields to help contain the media and fans so the players could go about their work.
Darvish said throwing for just five minutes off the mound and then five minutes for hitters was different, but he felt comfortable. He said he had to get used to throwing to hitters with a screen in front of him. And he doesn't plan on decreasing his pitch repertoire or giving any secrets away to hitters.
"I don't even know how many pitches I throw," Darvish said.
A few hours after his workout, Darvish answered a few dozen questions in a 30-minute news conference and came across confident that he can make the adjustment to big league life.
Darvish said he feels a part of the team and has met many of his teammates. Some of them have even attempted to teach him some English and Spanish phrases.
"They are all great guys," Darvish said. "I would say it wasn't formal English or Spanish, but they are teaching me a lot of different things."
Darvish's goals this spring are simple: prepare for the season and stay healthy. He said he spent part of the offseason throwing with a big league ball (his father said Darvish even practiced without rubbing the balls so they were even more slippery) to get used to the feel. And he'll now be on a program where he throws every other day. Darvish will throw to hitters again on Saturday and is also slated to pitch in the club's second intrasquad game late next week.
Darvish stayed away from making any predictions on how well he'll do in the big leagues, but said he will adjust to the game and work with his catcher to use a strategy that works that particular game.
"I haven't made one pitch in the big leagues yet," Darvish said. "But I will make all the effort to become as good a pitcher as I can be."
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.