Commentary

Yu Darvish gets taste of adversity

Rangers starter's rough outing is nothing to fret about; it's part of the process

Updated: March 14, 2012, 3:00 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Yu Darvish couldn't command his two-seam fastball Tuesday afternoon at Goodyear Ballpark. And his four-seam fastball was as flat as the Arizona desert.

That meant he struggled.

[+] EnlargeYu Darvish
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinYu Darvish got his first taste of adversity, struggling with his control in his second spring start.

And you know what? That's OK. Really, it is.

After all, Ron Washington insists, Yu will be ready to do his thing when the season begins April 8.

Perhaps, after his so-so performance in the Texas Rangers' 8-all tie against the Cleveland Indians, we can temper some of the ridiculous expectations folks have for Yu.

Sure, he has immense talent and an equal dose of swag, but on the days he can't locate his fastball, he'll be just another average pitcher.

In three innings against Cleveland, Yu allowed three hits and two runs, while walking four and striking out three.

He threw 62 pitches -- 12 more than the Rangers intended.

So what does it all mean?

"He's human," catcher Yorvit Torrealba said. "Believe it or not, he's human."

What Torrealba, Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux want everyone to understand is the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Yu isn't going to throw a shutout or a no-hitter every time he's on the mound.

CC Sabathia doesn't do it. Neither does Justin Verlander. Or Felix Hernandez.

All the best pitchers struggle occasionally, as will Yu.

The Rangers want to know how he reacts when it happens. Frankly, that's the biggest mystery involving Yu.

Does he cave mentally? Does he make excuses? Or does he attack?

Understand, he was 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA in Japan.

Adversity is something all pitchers deal with, which is why one Japanese reporter asked him whether one of his goals this season was to avoid being taken out in the middle of an inning.

Rest assured, a pitcher that good has not been born yet.

Baseball, at one level, is a simple game for pitchers. Command the strike zone with good fastball location, get ahead of the count and put away hitters by enticing them to chase pitches off the plate.

When pitchers work from behind in the count, it's only a matter of time until they give up hits and runs because they're forced to throw pitches in the strike zone.

Yu, who worked exclusively out of the stretch again, threw seven of his first eight pitches for balls and walked the first two batters he faced, but Torrealba bailed him out. He threw out each of the first two runners as they attempted to steal second.

Yu struck out Shin-Soo Choo to end the inning and added two more strikeouts to end the second inning.

But his lack of control finally hurt him in the third inning.

After Jack Hannahan led off with a double to center, Lou Marson and Michael Brantley each walked on four pitches, loading the bases and bringing Torrealba out for a visit.

Asdrubal Cabrera singled sharply to right, driving in Cleveland's first run. That prompted a visit from Maddux, who told Yu to attack Choo, who grounded into a double play. Travis Hafner flied out to center, ending the inning.

"I really wanted him to finish that inning," Washington said. "There are going to be days when it's hard to get your outs and you have to battle. He did that today."

As Yu sat in the dugout, Torrealba gave him some advice about surviving in the American League.

It's OK, he told Yu, to use the curve or slider or split-finger fastball to get ahead in the count if the fastball isn't working.

"I thought he got a little frustrated because he couldn't get the fastball over, but he wanted to keep throwing it," Torrealba said. "He's not going to be perfect all of the time, but he battled. He kept us in the game, which is what you want your pitcher to do."

Yu said he couldn't find a rhythm in the bullpen before the game or once the game started.

"I think it was a positive step for me getting ready for the season," he said. "It was a situation that could've been awful, but I was able to get out of it with just two runs.

"When the bases were loaded, I was trying to get a ground ball, and it worked out. That was a big play for me."

More important, Yu didn't seem too concerned with his performance. He understands it's all part of a process.

Everyone else needs to take the same approach.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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