Rangers won't treat Yu any differently

Rangers won't treat Yu any differently

Published Jan. 20, 2012 10:06 p.m. ET

The Texas Rangers are probably better equipped to manage expectations for Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish than any team in baseball. That's because the man at the top of the food chain, Nolan Ryan, knows what it's like to face enormous pressure every time he takes the mound.

There are (misguided) folks who take a look at the $108 million price tag for Darvish and assume he has to be at the top of the rotation immediately. I think several organizations in the league would take that approach with the 25-year-old phenom, who was officially introduced to a packed house of reporters at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Friday evening.

Speaking through a translator, Darvish seemed anything but overwhelmed by this new challenge. He deflected some questions with self-deprecating humor, joking that he would've given up a game-winning home run to the Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series, but has plans for a different outcome this season.

The fact that manager Ron Washington and pitching coach Mike Maddux intend to treat Darvish just like any other player on the roster gives him the best chance to succeed in the coming years. He's certainly aware of the track record Japanese League starters have in this country, but he doesn't seem like the type of athlete who will wear that burden on his sleeve. Ryan, who wasn't able to attend Friday's news conference because of a prior engagement, will help set the proper tone for Darvish's development with the Rangers.

"I don't think you make statements and put people in situations where they think expectations are unrealistic or that your expectations are premature," Ryan told us Thursday on ESPN 103.3. "We look at him as a very gifted and talented athlete, and there should be a transition period where he doesn't have to go out and shut people out and do things that maybe some people think he should do right off the get go. I'm really of the mindset to let him ease into this and let him get his feet on the ground and develop a comfort level where I think, when he does that, I think we're going to see him take off."

Ryan will leave the rotation up to Washington, but he made it clear the Rangers wouldn't let the amount invested in Darvish dictate his spot. Colby Lewis will start the first game of the 2012 season, and it's likely left-hander Derek Holland will pitch second. Darvish will either start the season as the No. 3 or No. 4 starter. If the Rangers save him for the fourth start of the season, he could throw the first pitch of his American baseball career against Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners. From a marketing standpoint, you could do a lot worse on a school night.

"I would venture to say that Ron, after whatever happens in spring training, will work him into the rotation," said Ryan. "It wouldn't surprise me if Ron waits and pitches him in the third or fourth game of the season."

It's a great sign that Darvish intends to only use a translator when talking to the media. He wants to communicate directly with his teammates and coaches, which should give him instant credibility in the clubhouse. He didn't request a lot of the same perks Dice K wanted from the Red Sox when he came over from Japan. He didn't see the need to ask for eight round-trip tickets to Japan per season, and he made it clear he'd pay for his own personal trainer. It's hard to imagine Darvish being overwhelmed by all the media attention since his every move, both on and off the diamond, has been tracked for the past seven years. Because of his rare gift, he's been in the spotlight since he was a child.

"I want to do the best I can do and make my starts and do the best for the team," Darvish said through a translator. "Regarding off-the-field things and pressure, it's something to try to not be too tight about. I'll have an open mind and be relaxed."

Darvish's debut will be bigger than anything the Rangers have seen over the past 40 years in the regular season. If he pitches reasonably well, there will be plenty of sellouts in 2012 – even on weeknights. Because of his international appeal, it wouldn't shock me to see Darvish become the most popular player in baseball over the next few years.

The Rangers have gambled a lot of money on him ending the streak of Asian starters who haven't been able to succeed over the long haul. They have scouted Darvish for years, though, and became convinced he was unlike any Japanese starter who came before him. Everyone who's played with or against him in Japan has talked about the swagger he brings to the mound. And he certainly didn't seem out of place Friday in what had to be the most anticipated news conference in Rangers history.

"The Rangers have had a lot of big moments on the field the last couple of years, but there haven't been too many bigger off the field than what brings us here today," said general manager Jon Daniels at the start of Friday's ceremonies.

One thing that stood out to Darvish during his first visit to Arlington was how close the right-center field fence seemed to home plate. He jokingly asked Daniels if the wall could be moved back a few more feet.

It's one demand the Rangers won't be able to meet, but judging by his performance Friday, it's not something that will intimidate Darvish.