After Yu: Rangers caught in middle, now going on without ace

FILE - In this July 9, 2017, file photo, Texas Rangers starting pitcher Yu Darvish adjusts his hat as he works the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, in Arlington, Texas. As the hours tick down to baseball's trade deadline, three standout pitchers remain at the center of attention. Sonny Gray, Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish each have the potential to help a contending team down the stretch, and if any of them are traded Monday, July 31, 2017, it would certainly spice up what has been a fairly pedestrian stretch of deals so far.  (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez, File)

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) When Yu Darvish arrived in Texas from Japan in 2012, the Rangers were coming off consecutive World Series appearances.

As was expected with his celebrated entrance then, Darvish is now pitching for a World Series contender. Except it’s out on the West Coast for the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers and not in Texas, where the ace never won a postseason game and wasn’t even part of winning a playoff series.

With a third straight AL West title long out of reach, and the push for one of the American League’s two wild-card spots becoming ever more difficult with each loss, the Rangers got three minor league players for the pitcher they spent more than two years scouting and more than $107 million to acquire.

After completing a trade with the Dodgers only minutes before Monday’s non-waiver deadline, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was asked if he felt Darvish was worth it – the time, $56 million in salary and more than $51 million they had to pay his team in Japan.

”I do, on a variety of levels. But ultimately he was outstanding when he was on the field for us. Pitched at a level very, very few pitchers do,” Daniels said. ”He got hurt and that’s the nature of the game. … But he produced an extremely high level when he was here.”

Darvish, who is scheduled to make his Dodgers debut Friday night at the New York Mets, was 52-39 with a 3.42 ERA in 122 starts for Texas. In his first full season after Tommy John surgery, he is 6-9 with a 4.01 ERA in 22 starts this year, including 0-5 in his last eight outings.

The Rangers got no immediate help after dealing Darvish, who this year was an All-Star for the fourth time in the five seasons he played. Darvish had elbow surgery and missed all of 2015, when Texas made a late push to an AL West title in manager Jeff Banister’s first season after the midseason addition of lefty Cole Hamels.

When the Rangers lost Hamels’ debut exactly two years ago Tuesday, they were eight games back in the AL West. They were four games back in the wild-card chase, with four teams between them and the second spot.

Hours after the Darvish trade Monday, with its remaining ace Hamels on the mound, Texas led 4-0 after two innings against Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. But the Rangers had four errors, two balks and 13 strikeouts in what became a sloppy 6-4 loss that put them 19 games back of the Houston Astros in the AL West.

The Rangers lost their fourth straight Tuesday night, 8-7 to the Mariners, while Houston lost as well. Texas also stayed 5 1/2 games out of the second wild card with five teams, including division foes Seattle and the Los Angeles Angels, between them.

”The mindset is still the same. We know where we’re at, we know what we’re up against,” Banister said after the trade. ”I relish the fact that some of this is going to go down as, ”Well, the Rangers are now not part of the equation.’ … That DNA is still there, that want-to and the drive is still there.”

Hamels is signed through next season with a club option for 2019, but Darvish – who turns 31 on Aug. 16 – can become a free agent this winter. So can starters Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, both on one-year deals.

Texas also this week traded catcher Jonathan Lucroy to Colorado for a player to be named, and sent reliever Jeremy Jeffress back to Milwaukee for a Double-A pitcher. They were non-waiver deadline additions last summer.

But at that same time this year, Daniels acknowledged that the Rangers were somewhat caught in the middle – not in position to just add a player to ”finish off the club” for a pennant chase, but not completely out of the mix for a possible playoff push.

”Bit of a challenging call to make,” Daniels said. ”But ultimately we decided that the package that we got (for Darvish), these three young players, was over the line for us.”

Adrian Beltre, their 38-year-old third baseman and newest member in baseball’s 3,000-hit club, said Rangers teammates were disappointed to see Darvish traded, but aren’t giving up on the season.

”We know that we can win without him,” Beltre said. ”Hopefully, guys as a group can step up and do a better job – offensively, defensively and pitching – and use this as a motivation.”

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