Yu Darvish focusing on fastball
Rangers starter still trying to polish his 'best pitch,' but shows improved command
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The best news about Yu Darvish's four-inning start Monday was that the 25-year-old Japanese pitcher said his two-seam fastball was his best pitch.
"I enjoyed my outing," Darvish said through his translator, Joe Furukawa.
That was not the case six days ago, when Darvish's fastball command was all over the place and he couldn't seem to get it figured out.
The wobbly start against the Cleveland Indians sent Darvish to a mound on the back field of Surprise to work on his delivery and consistency under the watchful eyes of pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins. He threw from the windup in those sessions, something he didn't do in his first two starts. And he skipped a live batting practice session so that he could spend more time honing his craft in a bullpen session.
The work paid off Monday, at least as far as the fastball was concerned. He threw some breaking balls in the dirt and a curveball that didn't release correctly and ended up in the back of Brewers hitter Jonathan Lucroy. But the most important thing was Darvish improved his fastball command.
"I liked what I saw," Maddux said. "He had a good sinker, really kept the ball down well. His four-seamer had some hop, his two-seamer had a lot of action. He threw some nice sliders. I really wanted to see the curveball come into play, but we didn't get any effectively over the plate that they'd swing at. The arm speed was good, delivery was good. He really came at them."
It's an experience the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim won't get to see this weekend. The Rangers are smartly pulling Darvish out of that Cactus League game in Tempe and pitching him in Surprise Stadium on Sunday morning against some of the club's minor leaguers.
Why give the Angels' hitters a chance to see Darvish's pitches before the season? The clubs won't face each other until May 11 in Arlington, and we'll see if Darvish even pitches in that three-game set. But with the division foes facing each other twice this weekend in spring, there's no point in showing any of Darvish's cards.
But Darvish wasn't hiding his intentions against the Brewers on Monday. He wanted to fix his fastball command.
I talked to few scouts who saw Darvish on Monday and they had the same thought: Darvish must stay aggressive with his fastball and trust it.
"He's got an explosive fastball, and that two-seamer is tough to square up," one scout said. "But it seems like he doesn't stick with it enough. He did more of that [Monday], and I'm sure we'll see that more going forward."
That's the plan, anyway. Maddux said he figures eight of every 10 fastballs Darvish threw Monday were two-seamers. They had good movement and were tough for hitters to figure out. The final pitch Darvish threw, in fact, was a two-seamer that broke the bat of Lucroy, who grounded out to third baseman Adrian Beltre to start an inning-ending double play.
"In Yu's case, the two-seamer is going to get a lot of play," Maddux said. "I want to see him have some success so he believes [in] it, because that's the one pitch that we see that we say he's got the best stuff we've seen in the business so far."
Darvish's line wasn't perfect Monday. He walked three batters, though a 3-2 pitch to Travis Ishikawa was borderline. He hit a batter, threw a wild pitch and gave up a run in the second inning thanks to those self-inflicted wounds. But even the RBI single was a well-placed chopper by Norichika Aoki that wasn't hit particularly well.
Darvish also won the one-on-one battle that everyone wanted to see. He got National League MVP Ryan Braun out twice. The left fielder popped up to second base in the first and flied out to left field in the third.
"He kept the ball down in the zone and threw a bunch of different pitches," Braun said. "He was pretty consistently getting ahead of hitters with good velocity. He has kind of a different arm angle and the pause, so it kind of messes with your timing as a hitter.
"You can tell he's confident out there, and I'm sure he'll be successful for them. He looks like a pitcher. He's big, tall and throws downhill. He definitely is a presence on the mound and certainly going to help their team out. It'll be fun for us to watch."
Darvish threw every pitch in his arsenal except the split-fingered fastball, which he threw just once in the bullpen prior to the game.
"We just didn't need it today," catcher Mike Napoli said.
Napoli was impressed with Darvish's cutter and said he threw some nice sliders and changeups to go along with the two- and four-seam fastballs. The curve was the one pitch that wasn't as sharp as it could have been.
Overall, though, this is what the Rangers wanted to see. Darvish commanded his fastball and then reaffirmed his confidence in his two-seamer in his comments after the game, calling it his best pitch of the day.
It was progress, and that, after all, is what spring training is all about. Darvish will get another chance to take a step forward Sunday, even though it's against minor leaguers. He'll throw five innings. And he'll try to improve.
"How my body feels and my delivery is still not where it needs to be," Darvish said. "I don't expect it to be perfect [right now]. I'm working on polishing it."
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.
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