Commentary

Yu Darvish shows grit in hyped debut

Anxiety got to Rangers righty in awful first inning, but his response was impressive

Updated: April 10, 2012, 11:03 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers spent $112 million and waited 82 days for Yu Darvish to make his major league debut.

What a letdown -- at least for an inning. Maybe two.

So much hype. So much anticipation. So little control.

[+] EnlargeYu Darvish
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireYu Darvish gave up four runs in a 42-pitch first inning but was able to grind out a win in his debut.

For a while, it seemed that Darvish was going to have one of the most forgettable debuts in Dallas-Fort Worth history after an awful first inning.

He can thank the Rangers' booming bats for taking him off the hook -- Nelson Cruz, Mitch Moreland, Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler each homered -- and providing him an opportunity to find a rhythm and pick up his first big league win.

Once he did, Darvish resembled the guy we saw the past couple of weeks in spring training -- not the nervous, hyperactive dude we saw pitch the first inning. That guy couldn't have thrown a pitch over the plate if the strike zone had been from eyeball to ankle.

But he survived, and that's what's most important for the Rangers.

Texas 11, Seattle 5.

Even an untrained eye could tell anxiety affected Darvish's performance in the first inning. No pitcher picks up the resin bag seven times in an inning on a breezy, 75-degree April evening unless he has sweaty palms from adrenaline overload.

When he wasn't overthrowing, he was trying to guide his pitches. Neither approach, as you can imagine, is conducive to effective pitching.

"When I stepped on the mound for the first time, I felt calm and my mind felt calm," Darvish said through an interpreter. "But my body felt like it wanted to go, go, go. My mind and my body were not on the same page."

Seattle scored four runs on four hits and three walks in a wretched 42-pitch first inning that lasted 10 batters and more than 20 minutes. At one point, Scott Feldman began warming up in the Rangers' bullpen.

Moreland, a first baseman, was the only infielder who did not make a trip to the mound or offer Darvish some words of encouragement in the first inning, when he threw just four first-pitch strikes and had four three-ball counts.

We should've expected Darvish to experience some anxiety because he's trying to prove to his teammates and his countrymen that he can have the same success in the big leagues as he did in Japan, where he was 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA in seven seasons.

The biggest question about Darvish isn't talent. We know he has plenty of that.

The question was how would he react when he struggled? Or when a big league hitter smashed his fastball a county mile. Positive answers to those questions are among the ways he will earn respect from his teammates and fans.

Darvish provided some of those answers Monday night, when he slogged through an uneven performance but refused to yield.

He gave up a run on a two-out single in the second. He did not allow another run.

Impressive.

"He wasn't scared or nervous; he was just over-amped," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He wanted to battle and he wanted to be a warrior, and he wanted to give us those zeroes after the second inning because it gave us a chance to get back into the game."

Darvish threw 42 pitches in the first inning and 55 in his last four and two-thirds as the Rangers seized control of the game.

Despite his struggles, Darvish battled and gave the Rangers an opportunity to win, which is all Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux want their pitchers to do.

And that's why when Darvish left the game with two outs, runners on first and second and an ERA of 7.54, the crowd of more than 40,000 gave him a standing ovation and serenaded him with chants of "Yuuuuuu!"

In the days between his next start Saturday against Minnesota, you can be sure that Darvish will make some mechanical adjustments. His control seemed to come and go between batters.

He walked four, threw two wild pitches and hit a batter. He threw first-pitch strikes to only 13 of 30 batters and wound up with 10 three-ball counts.

"I threw so many one-hoppers to [Mike] Napoli that I'm sure he's all bruised up," Darvish said. "I'm concerned about his health."

Understand, Darvish isn't going to be judged on one start or one season. He's going to be here for the next five seasons.

No doubt there will be better performances, but Darvish demonstrated his competitiveness.

Now he just needs to relax.

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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