How to hit Yu

Opponents try to solve the mystery of Yu Darvish

Updated: May 31, 2012, 5:00 PM ET
By Mag Staff | ESPN The Magazine

Yu DarvishAFLO/Icon SMIIn his first nine starts, Darvish struck out 63, tied for sixth in the majors.

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TALK ABOUT A RIDDLE wrapped in a mystery. When it comes to Yu Darvish, the 25-year-old who has taken the American League by storm, some things are clear. "He's got some pretty cool hair," Johnny Damon says. "He's the rock star who came over from Japan." Solving the former Nippon Ham Fighter at the plate, however, is still a matter of underinformed debate. Through May 29, Darvish was 7-2 with a 3.25 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 10 starts. We asked six hitters who have had success against the Rangers rookie about their strategy and found little consensus. Be patient? Be aggressive? Look for a certain pitch in a certain zone? Clearly the puzzle remains unfinished.

Danny Valencia
3B, Twins/Triple-A Rochester
Best AB: Single to right on a fastball over the plate in the Twins' 6-2 loss on April 14.
He has five or six pitches, and three or four of them are really good. Not many pitchers have that. You have to go with a really simple approach. Look for a fastball over the plate, but don't get too consumed sitting on particular pitches. Be patient. Hope he falls behind and gives you a pitch to hit.

Asdrubal Cabrera
SS, Indians
Best AB: Ground ball double to right on a cutter over the plate in the Indians' 4-2 win on May 6.
He worked every inning with a different pitch. But if you're aggressive early in the count, you have a chance to hit a good ball. In that at-bat, the first couple of pitches were inside, so I was looking for the cutter away. Just be aggressive early, and don't bother trying to get ahead of him in the count.

Denard Span
CF, Twins
Best ABs: Doubles to right on a low cutter and to center on a curveball over the plate on April 14.
The ball explodes out of his hand. You have to stay up the middle. His slider is his best pitch. His two-seamer runs off the table well, and his cutter moves really late. We had him on the ropes, but he was able to close the door. We had the bases loaded, and he was able to get out of the jam.

Johnny Damon
LF, Indians
Best ABs: Single to right on a cutter over the plate and an infield single on a fastball on May 6.
It'll give you a serious headache if you think about every one of his pitches, so I just thought about hitting a strike. If you see a strike, hit it. Don't think about anything else. I was the first batter of the game, so he was just getting going and happened to leave a pitch over the plate.

Jason Kipnis
2B, Indians
Best ABs: Two walks and a homer on a 2-0 fastball over the plate on May 6.
We knew him to be a bit erratic, so we wanted to not help him out, to make sure we swung at strikes and didn't chase his pitches. At first I was trying to do too much with my swing, so in my third at-bat, I simplified it and cut down on the effort and made sure I had hard contact, and that's when I got my home run.

Orlando Hudson
INF, White Sox
Best AB: Double to right on an elevated fastball in the Padres' 6-2 Cactus League loss on March 7.
He was hitting his spots that day, so I just stepped into the batter's box and knew he'd have to throw across the plate. He has that Roy Halladay body -- big on the mound, good live arm, very athletic. But we'll see how he pans out pitching in Texas in the real summertime.

Reporting by Jorge Arangure Jr., Louise K. Cornetta, Molly Knight and Stacey Pressman.

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