Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Updated: February 22, 11:28 AM ET
Yu Darvish in Rangers camp
By Richard Durrett
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers catcher Luis Martinez marveled at his lucky break on Tuesday.
Just as Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish had completed his warm-up tosses, Martinez was ready to catch another bullpen session. So the 26-year-old Martinez, who was traded to the Rangers in January from San Diego for a minor league reliever, caught 30 pitches thrown from Darvish's right arm. It was the first workout for Darvish in a Rangers uniform at spring training.
"I was excited and happy to catch him," said Martinez, who admitted that it was "a bit overwhelming," too. "He had a bunch of pitches, great stuff and stayed down in the zone. He threw curveballs, sliders, changeup, splits. He did really well."
Darvish arrived at Surprise Recreation Campus at 8:30 a.m. MT and walked past a gaggle of Japanese media with cameras clicking for his every step. He didn't talk to the media and went into the clubhouse, reappearing about 30 minutes later for his workout.
He walked down to the bullpen area with several players, including starting pitcher Derek Holland. Darvish told Holland that he wants to learn English.
"He's practicing it," Holland said. "He said, 'Please teach me English.' I told him I'm not the best guy to be teaching English. We were joking. He was getting a feel for it.
"He wants to learn it. That's a pretty neat thing. He's interacting with us. He's not standoffish. He's coming right with us. He's a normal person. It won't be hard for him to fit right in chemistry-wise."
Holland and Darvish threw off flat ground to warm up and Darvish kept apologizing to Holland when he didn't hit the spot he wanted.
"The one thing he's got to get over is that if he makes a bad pitch, he can't say he's sorry," Holland said. "There's no need. We're not always going to hit our spot every time. We're normal people. We work to make sure we don't miss the next time."
Several other Rangers players arrived and marveled at the sight of all the cameras and media hoping to catch a glimpse of Darvish.
Reliever Koji Uehara, the subject of trade talk the last week, called the scene a "frenzy."
"I've been talking to Yu on Twitter and just told him that he has to do what he needs to do to get prepared and not worry about all the cameras," Uehara said through a translator.
Catcher Mike Napoli, who spent time in the batting cages on Tuesday, expects to see even more media in the coming days and weeks. He remembers the large group that followed Hideki Matsui when Napoli and Matsui were teammates with the Angels.
"I want to see what it's all about," Napoli said about Darvish. "I'm hoping he's a phenom. We'll see. I can't wait to see him. I want to do my part."
The back fields at the Rangers' spring training facility weren't open to the media, but Darvish could be seen running and pitching a bit through the fence on the other side of the complex. He's expected to talk to the media for the first time at spring training on Thursday, when he could be throwing to live hitters for the first time too.
Martinez, now a famous face in Japan, joked that Darvish threw "about 10 pitches." But the catcher, who has caught Greg Maddux and Heath Bell throwing sessions before, said he was most impressed with Darvish's cutter and two-seam fastball. Martinez said Darvish was throwing around 75 to 80 percent and figures maybe 88 to 90 mph, though he did throw some harder balls at the end of the session.
That marked the end of Darvish's first workout and the first of many that will be followed in detail during spring training.
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.