ARLINGTON, Texas — Rangers manager Ron Washington said recently that it was perfectly fine to criticize pitcher Yu Darvish when he had a poor performance. And apparently fans got the message.
The “Yuuuuuus” at the Ballpark were replaced by a smattering of boos as Darvish made it easy on Angels hitters. He coughed up a three-run lead his last time out against the Chicago White Sox, and he put his team in a 6-0 hole in the third inning Wednesday. It took a miracle comeback by his teammates to take him off the hook in the Rangers’ 11-10 win.
Darvish only gave up four hits in five innings, but he allowed six walks. He pulled into a second-place tie with Toronto’s Ricky Romero on the AL walks list. And just like Derek Holland the previous evening, the trouble started with a walk to No. 8 hitter Chris Iannetta. Darvish then walked No. 9 hitter Andrew Romine on four consecutive pitches. It was pretty obvious that he lost focus, which he later confirmed during a rather candid session with reporters.
“With Iannetta, I attacked him and tried to get him,” said Darvish. “I was disappointed and I think that affected the next hitter.”
He had a great chance to escape the inning unscathed when Torii Hunter hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Elvis Andrus, but Ian Kinsler made an awful throw to first base as he attempted to turn a double play. The Angels scored two runs as a result of the throwing error and then Albert Pujols belted a two-run homer. Darvish threw Pujols a two-seam fastball on a 1-1 count and it ended up in the left center field seats. At some point during this series, perhaps pitchers will realize that Pujols doesn’t mind driving chest-high fastballs out of the park.
Darvish never recovered as he went back to walking hitters. He didn’t appear to have any command of his fastball, which led him to throw a few 65-mph curveballs that almost seemed to amuse the Angels hitters.
The Rangers rotation has sprung a major leak, and Darvish is a big part of that. He was the A.L. Rookie of the Month in April with four wins and a 2.18 ERA. He tailed off in June and joined his teammates in having a bad July. Pitching against teams the Rangers could possibly face in the postseason in his last two starts, Darvish has given up 12 earned runs and nine walks. Speaking through an interpreter, he tried to diagnose the problem.
“Just in general, I think I’m starting to think about the walks. Maybe I’m thinking about that too much or paying too much attention to not walking guys. Those are things that I think are getting into my head and affecting the mentality on my part.
“Next time, I’m not going to be afraid to walk guys and just give it my all and the team wins, that’s all I’m going to care about. I’m going to try to clear my mind and not even think about it.”
For a while it looked like Darvish simply had a phobia of the Seattle Mariners, but now he’s spreading it around. Perhaps he would’ve steadied himself had Kinsler not made a throwing error, but that had nothing to do with back-to-back walks at the bottom of the order with one out. Washington thinks it’s time to take off the kid gloves with Darvish because of his immense talent. He knew this wouldn’t be a smooth transition, but the Rangers certainly expect Darvish to keep them in games.
Who do you trust in this Rangers rotation right now other than Matt Harrison and Scott Feldman? Holland’s giving up home runs at an alarming rate and Roy Oswalt has been banished to the bullpen. Dempster put up strong numbers with the Cubs, but he now has to face tougher lineups.
The Rangers scored the fewest runs in the AL in July, which doesn’t give their pitchers much margin of error. But perhaps Wednesday’s improbable comeback can ignite this offense. The offense bailed out Darvish and closer Joe Nathan, who gave up three runs in the 10th inning. If this team starts hitting on a regular basis, it could take a lot of pressure off the rotation.
Darvish was 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in 18 2/3 innings (25 strikeouts, 10 walks) against the Angels before Wednesday’s game. Now, that ERA has jumped to 5.32.
Washington seems convinced that Darvish will be able to make the proper adjustments down the stretch. The Rangers had his back Wednesday, but he has to find more consistency.
He may be as close to a true No. 1 pitcher as the Rangers have. But right now, he’s searching for answers.