Rangers ride their ‘stud’ as duel never materializes

ARLINGTON, Texas — So the pitching duel that many hoped to see at Rangers Ballpark Thursday night between Yu Darvish and Justin Verlander never materialized.

As Texas manager Ron Washington so often said during the Rangers’ playoff march in 2010, that’s the way baseball goes.

But while Verlander was historically bad against the Rangers Thursday, Darvish showed everything the Rangers hoped to see after a rocky start and ended up throwing eight innings and a whopping 130 pitches. He came through as the clear winner in a 10-4 Texas thumping of the Tigers in the first-ever matchup between the Cy Young contenders.

“Yu Darvish, in my opinion, is a stud,” Texas manager Ron Washington said.

The Tigers certainly didn’t think so after the third inning. The stud struggled early, getting tagged for three runs in a laborious top of the third inning in which he threw 36 pitches. But at least he would survive to see a fourth inning.

That wasn’t the case for Verlander in the bottom of the inning. By the time his 38-pitch nightmare had ended, Verlander had walked in two batters for the first time in his career and added another career milestone by allowing seven runs to score for the first time in an inning.

The Rangers did that damage against the same Verlander who had allowed a total of four earned runs in his career at Rangers Ballpark and came into the game with a 1.29 ERA at Texas.

But by the time Texas had sent 10 batters to the plate and Verlander had surrendered a three-run homer to .176-hitting Geovany Soto to go along with the two-run scoring walks, the dreams of a pitching showdown had completely evaporated.

Sometimes it goes that way. Verlander (4-4), whose ERA jumped from 1.93 to 3.17, has been around long enough to know that.

“A lot of times pitching duels don’t work out that way,” Verlander said. “Tonight definitely didn’t work out that way. I don’t think he (Darvish) pitched as well as he would have liked either. I would have liked to have done the same thing he did, which is battle through that one tough inning and execute that one pitch, which I wasn’t able to do and then start finding a rhythm, which he was able to do later in the game. That’s something I’ve been able to do throughout my career, just wasn’t able to get to that point tonight.”

With Verlander long gone after matching the third-shortest outing of his career, the ace spotlight shined only on Darvish.

And he spent the rest of the game making the 39,778 forget everything about the first three innings and once again back on the fact that the Rangers really have a true, legitimate, No. 1 bona fide ace.

The kind of ace who allows just one of the final 16 batters he faced against the best offense in baseball to reach. The kind of ace who throws a more pitched than any Texas pitcher in nine years, but can still mix a 64-mph curveball and a 96-mph fastball together in the eighth inning on a sticky Arlington night.

“I think I pitched really well the first two innings,” Darvish said. “It was just that one inning in the third that went really bad. Other than that, I didn’t really change anything. I just got hit (in the third).”

Was the 130 pitches too many? Not in the eyes of Washington, who said earlier this week that’s the maximum amount he wanted Darvish to throw.

The Rangers led 10-4 after seven innings and Darvish had thrown 115 pitches. But Washington’s fear of the Detroit lineup meant another frame for Darvish, who thought he was done after seven.

“That lineup they (the Tigers) got, it’s not soft anywhere in it,” Washington said. “So even though we had a lead, I wasn’t comfortable. After the third inning, when they put the three runs on Yu Darvish, you look at the pitch count. They went down. His last inning was 15. He wasn’t stressing out. I felt like we needed to get him through that eighth inning to give our bullpen a break.”

Darvish, who has now won five-straight decisions, didn’t have a problem with the move. He said that he routinely threw 120 pitches in his starts in Japan.

He also felt like he was strong late in the game.

“Today in particular after the 100th pitch I think I was fired up and I had a lot of gasoline left,” said Darvish.

So did the Texas offense, which finished with 10 hits, six of them coming off Darvish.

Mitch Moreland continued his torrid May with two doubles, including the go-ahead two-run double in the third inning. Getting the big hit off the Detroit ace was nice.

“Any time you face him, it’s going to be tough,” Moreland said. “It was a good inning for us. That’s just the way our team goes out and tries to make it work. We’re going to grind out every at-bat, and 1 through 9 we’re trying to make it tough and trying to create opportunities. That inning we were able to do it.”