ARLINGTON, Texas — Anyone who wonders whether the Texas Rangers have a legitimate No. 1 pitcher for the postseason hasn’t seen Yu Darvish pitch for the last month.
Friday night, the Darvish domination continued with a 9-3 victory over Seattle in which Darvish pitched seven innings of two-hit ball and went over the 200-strikeout mark for the season.
And he wasn’t completely happy with his outing, as he said the substance of the start wasn’t as good as the finals numbers showed.
The Mariners would probably argue against that. Darvish allowed one run in seven innings, struck out nine and walked two. His 15th victory also allowed him to enter some rare baseball air.
He’s just the 16th rookie to go over the 200-strikeout mark in a season since 1900 and the sixth American League. He also put together his third consecutive start of at least seven innings and three or fewer hits. The only other player in Texas history to accomplish that feat was Nolan Ryan in 1990.
If that wasn’t enough, he’s put together six consecutive quality starts and has lowered his ERA by more than a half of a run in the last month.
“I’m able to concentrate and compete against the hitters, get them out,” Darvish said of his recent run. “When I need to throw a strike, I’m able to do that. That’s allowed me to throw more relaxed.”
Darvish couldn’t relax too much Friday, as the Texas offense didn’t get him much breathing room. A leadoff homer by Ian Kinsler in the first on a ball that was originally ruled a double gave him a run, and Josh Hamilton’s 42nd homer of the season in the third made it a 2-0 game.
That was enough for Darvish. He allowed a run in the fourth but then came back in the fifth and struck out the side. The most impressive of those was the one to end the inning against Munenori Kawasaki. Strike two came on a 62-mph curveball. Strike three came on a 94-mph fastball in a game during which Darvish said he didn’t have his best velocity.
While Darvish became the fourth-fastest major-leaguer to get to 200 strikeouts in his career since 1918, it’s not a stat that Darvish is concerned about. His focus is the bottom line.
“I feel nothing,” Darvish said of the strikeout mark. “The goal of pitching up here isn’t to throw how many strikeouts. I don’t feel anything towards that number.”
One thing that’s made Darvish so effective recently is that he’s narrowed his pitching repertoire in games. He can throw just about any pitch but has focused on what’s worked as the game goes on. It’s helped in his command, and he hasn’t walked more than two batters in any of his last five starts.
Texas manager Ron Washington was pleased to see Darvish attack the Mariners on a night the bullpen was without closer Joe Nathan or set-up man Mike Adams.
“I thought Yu was outstanding,” Washington said. “He was able to use his pitches. His cutter was working. He was good with the slow breaking ball, and he made them swing the bat. That was the most important thing.”
Maybe just as important as Darvish’s start was the Rangers’ ability to put away the Mariners with the big inning. They couldn’t do that against Cleveland Thursday, and it ended up costing them.
Friday, Texas scored seven times in the eighth inning, with Elvis Andrus getting the inning started with a double and ending the scoring with a three-run triple. The Rangers sent 11 hitters to the plate as the Mariners were forced to use four pitches in the frame.
The Rangers’ offense has shown that ability throughout the season. For Darvish, it’s been the last month when he’s shown he can be the dominant front end rotation starter.
It’s been fun for his teammates to see.
“When Yu throws strikes, he’s pretty unhittable,” said Hamilton, who added an RBI double in the eighth inning. “I’ve had other players from other teams tell me when he’s throwing strikes, he’s unhittable. He throws so many pitches for strikes when he throws strikes you don’t know what to expect. Watching him from center field, it’s fun.”