Darvish off to strong start in second spring
FEB 26, 2013 5:09p ET
He retired all six hitters he faced, and none of them made solid contact. The fidgety Darvish who showed up last spring in Arizona was nowhere to be found. He fell behind White Sox leadoff hitter DeWayne Wise, 2-0, but worked the count to 2-2 before inducing a lazy fly ball to third base. Darvish was among the American League leaders in walks allowed last season, but he had better command of his pitches while going 5-2 with a 1.78 ERA in his final seven starts.
Darvish attributed his success Tuesday to the White Sox hitters not being 100 percent, which is a far cry from how he handled his postgame news conference last spring. Asked about a double by Padres outfielder Will Venable that nearly knocked down the center-field wall, Darvish responded, "With the dry air in Arizona and the wind blowing out, it carried the ball. It didn't seem like a ball that was hit that squarely."
The comment caused a mild stir because everything Darvish did seemed to have an international impact. And it certainly made an impression on Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux.
"I thought last year, there could've been a dose of overconfidence when he came in here," Maddux said of Darvish. "In a way, that wasn't all bad. But now he's our sophomore veteran, so to speak."
Darvish no longer uses an interpreter to communicate with his teammates, although manager Ron Washington and Maddux still prefer to use one with him. (Washington insists he doesn't use "choice" words with Darvish.)
I overheard Darvish talking to a scout Tuesday using perfect English. And the fact that only about 10 Japanese reporters are monitoring Darvish instead of the 50 from last season seems to have had a calming influence.
"It was a three-ring circus last year, and he was center stage," Maddux said. "He wanted to blend in, but he just couldn't. This year, he's blending in. He's just one of the guys."
Of course, it's never easy for a potential ace to be one of the guys. For the Rangers to have any chance at making a run at the postseason, Darvish needs to eat a lot of innings. Washington doesn't think it's out of the question Darvish could end up with 200-220 innings. And one of the reasons is the Rangers manager doesn't think Darvish will feel as much pressure to show off his full "menu" of pitches. Washington wants Darvish to quickly identify the pitches that are effective on a given day and commit to them.
On Tuesday, he started No. 2 hitter Gordon Beckham with three consecutive fastballs, two of which registered 96 mph. Then Beckham struck out on a wicked 85-mph slider. White Sox slugger Adam Dunn worked the count full on Darvish in the second inning, but Darvish froze him with an 82-mph slider. It was a great sign that Darvish was working off his fastball a lot in his two innings.
It was a welcome sight for a Rangers team that remained winless in Cactus League after five games. Darvish looked effortless in his first outing, and that's a great sign for a team that has a lot of question marks.
It's too early to call Darvish an ace, but he looked a lot like a No. 1 pitcher against the White Sox. And maybe that's the idea when you shell out $112 million for a player.