Yu Darvish makes All-Star pitch
Rangers starter's bid bolstered after striking out 10 for his AL-high 10th win
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It wasn't exactly an easy draw for Yu Darvish's final start before the 2012 All-Star roster is put together this weekend.
The 25-year-old Texas Rangers starter had to face Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and the hard-hitting Detroit Tigers. He had to pitch in the suffocating triple-digit Texas heat for the first time. And he had to figure out how to bounce back from a 29-pitch first inning in which he put his team behind 2-0 before the offense even had a chance to go to work.
But by the time the first frame was over, Darvish had settled into a rhythm and was pitching more efficiently. He lasted seven innings (113 pitches) and gave up four runs on four hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts. And most important, he left with his team in the lead. Darvish watched from the dugout as the bullpen helped him secure his AL-leading 10th win, the best piece of evidence for his inclusion in the All-Star Game on July 10.
"It seemed like the longer the game went, the better he got," manager Ron Washington said after the Rangers' 7-5 win Tuesday night. "He was trying to get a rhythm again in those first few innings and they put some runs on the board. But we came back and answered and he continued to pound the strike zone. All of a sudden his fastball was crisper, his breaking ball was crisper and he was using the pitches at the right time. He kept us around, scored some runs and did a great job."
Let's not forget that the manager of the American League All-Stars has had a front-row seat to Darvish's maturation as a pitcher through his rookie season. Washington concedes that Darvish is in the discussion when it comes to All-Star selections. The players, of course, have a chance to vote him in. If they don't, it will depend on whether Washington has a spot for him. But there's no question he's on the manager's mind.
Darvish, who has won all seven of his starts at home, came into the game fifth in the AL with 96 strikeouts and added 10 to that total. It was the fourth time he's had 10 or more strikeouts this season, which is tied for the major league lead with R.A. Dickey. He was top-20 in ERA and in the top-10 in opponent batting average, too.
|Ron Washington joins Ben & Skin to talk about Yu Darvish and the Rangers' rotation.
So does Darvish think he's worthy of an All-Star bid?
"I think I also lead the league in walks," Darvish said through interpreter Joe Furukawa, after a reporter went through Darvish's resume. "I really can't confidently say I should be an All-Star. It's difficult to answer."
That's also some insight into Darvish's personality. He strives for perfection, and even though he has got 10 wins in 15 starts -- that's wins in 66 percent of his starts, a staggering number for a rookie in June -- Darvish wants more.
But the young pitcher has steadily matured this season, learning from his rough outings and showing the stuff that made Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and his baseball staff make a passionate plea to ownership to commit $51.7 million in a posting bid and another $56 million guaranteed for six years to bring Darvish to Texas.
There were more signs of his progression as a pitcher on Tuesday.
One of the biggest questions when Darvish arrived on American soil was how he would handle the grueling Texas summers. It's only June and already temperatures are well past sauna range at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
When he threw his first pitch at 7:07 p.m., it was 103 degrees.
"My teammates tell me it's still not as hot as it's going to get," Darvish said.
That news didn't appear to rattle Darvish, and the heat didn't melt him on Tuesday, either.
"I didn't feel like I was overwhelmed by the heat," said Darvish, who added that he pitched in a hot and humid part of Japan when he was with the Nippon-Ham Fighters' farm team early in his career.
On Tuesday, he was able to throw seven innings, fire 113 pitches to home plate and still had plenty of life on his fastball -- his 110th pitch came in at 94 mph for a strikeout.
"I do think that's where his conditioning comes into play," Daniels said. "The way he takes care of himself gives him a leg up."
Darvish ended a streak of rough starts against teams he was facing for the second time. Before Tuesday, Darvish was 1-3 with a 6.53 ERA in four starts when seeing an opponent for the second time in 2012. He gave up 18 walks in those outings and had just 19 strikeouts. But Darvish was much better against the Tigers this time around. His toughest task Tuesday was retiring Fielder, a challenge for any pitcher. Fielder drove in three of the four runs Darvish allowed, including a solo home run in the fourth. The rest of the Tigers hitters were 2-for-23.
"I had a plan. I wanted to attack some of his weak points," Darvish said. "But it just goes to show one of the top players in the league, if you don't make good pitches and leave [the] ball up in zone, those results happen. It's something I still need to improve on. I appreciate the fact that I can learn from this."
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Darvish also showed better overall control after the first, avoiding the high walk total that has plagued him at times. Until Tuesday, Darvish had walked at least two batters in every start this season. And that pattern looked like it would continue when Austin Jackson walked on a 3-2 fastball to lead off the game. Darvish then hit Cabrera -- grazing his head on a wild fastball -- to put two runners on with one out. Fielder's double put the Tigers up 2-0. But after three of the first four Tigers batters got on base, Darvish allowed only three of the remaining 23 hitters to reach. He leads the league with 50 walks, but he was averaging 3.5 walks per start, so this is a vast improvement.
And 15 starts into his big league career, it's difficult not to be impressed by what Darvish has done.
"The scouts that had done the most work and were most involved felt that he would be successful this year," Daniels said. "I wasn't sure how much of a transition there would be, both on the field and culturally, but from a performance standpoint and ability standpoint our guys felt like he would have success out of the gate. That's not meant to sound arrogant, it's the truth. That's just what they thought."
Daniels, though, cautions patience and stressed that Darvish is in the early stages of what the club hopes is a long big league career.
"We're not even halfway there yet," Daniels said. "We believe in him and I think he's going to have a lot of success in the league, but there's still going to be a whole lot of firsts and a whole lot of tests along the way."
Darvish had some firsts and some tests on Tuesday and passed them. Will his next first be a trip to the All-Star Game? Darvish did what he could to make his case. We'll all know Sunday.