At the rate he’s going, Yu Darvish might have 24 wins and a Cy Young Award wrapped up by the end of the season
The tall right-handed starting pitcher, who starred in Japan prior to this season, won again for Texas on Monday night, beating Toronto 4-1.
Darvish, who is 4-0 with a 2.18 ERA, has allowed just two earned runs in his last 21 2/3 innings in earning wins over the Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and Blue Jays. He is the first starting pitcher in Rangers’ history to win four of his first five games (one was a no-decision).
“I don’t expect him to go 32-0,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “But the thing about him is he will keep us in ballgames, and that’s what we want.”
In his first major league start on April 9, an 11-5 win over Seattle, Darvish was shaky, giving up four runs on 42 pitches in the first inning. But he settled down later, retiring 10 straight.
“It was pretty much a battle all night,” said Darvish, who speaks through a translator. “At the beginning of the game, my mind and body kind of weren’t on the same page.”
Since then, the 6-foot-5-inch, 216-pound Darvish went from pitching 5 2/3 innings in each of his first two starts to throwing 6 1/3, 8 1/3 and 7 on Monday. After allowing 13 walks and striking out 14 in his first three starts, Darvish has walked four and fanned 19 in his last two outings.
Monday’s win at Toronto came against the team that had shown interest in Darvish before he came to the major leagues from the Hokkaido Nippon-Han Fighters.
“Honestly, it was kind of an awkward feeling because rumor has it that this was a team that might have posted for me and there was some chance that I might have played for this team,” Darvish said. “Facing the Blue Jays, they could have been my teammates.”
Darvish, 25, was born in Habikino, Japan, to an Iranian father and Japanese mother. His talent was evident early on, and major league teams showed interest in him before the 2004 draft. But Darvish expressed his desire to play professionally in Japan.
He played on Japan’s national team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. In the WBC, Darvish went 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 13 innings. He got the last outs as Japan won its second straight WBC championship.
Darvish is so popular in Japan that he had to hold a press conference at the Sapporo Dome before 10,000 fans in January to tell them why he was leaving for the major leagues.
That popularity has made a seamless transition to Arlington, where a sellout crowd chanted “Yuuuuu!” in a 2-0 win over the powerful Yankees last week. His 10 strikeouts in that game were the most for a Rangers pitcher this season.
“After my last start, I mentioned my command is starting to come together,” Darvish said after that game. “Stuff-wise, there wasn’t much difference. I still like to think that there’s still more in me.”
Washington said after the Yankees game that Darvish keeps getting better every time he starts.
“Tonight, he used everything he had, and he was effective, very effective,” Washington said. “He’s getting more and more comfortable. He was pounding the strike zone. That’s what you have to do against that team. He threw everything but the kitchen sink at them.”
Darvish had the longest scoreless game by a Rangers pitcher against the Yankees since Bob Tewksbury threw a complete game shutout in 1995.
“You hear a lot of guys get hyped and he was everything that you’d heard,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said.
Darvish’s success includes his ability to throw a variety of pitches. He has a 94 to 97 mph four-seam fastball, an 80-84 mph slider, a 90-91 mph cutter, a 75 mph curveball, a two-seam fastball, change-up and splitter. He used to throw a screwball, and recently tinkered with a knuckleball while playing catch before a game.
While it’s doubtful that he’ll introduce a knuckleball anytime soon, Darvish might just be thinking ahead to later in his career.
“I’m very aware that all these hitters are seeing me for the first time,” Darvish said. “It’s only April. So I’m not thinking about how I did this month or being satisfied. Right now all I’m thinking about is preparing well for the next start.”
Darvish proved that he is human on Monday night, allowing his first home run of his major league career to Edwin Encarnacion. But his win over the Blue Jays made him only the sixth rookie pitcher since 1957 (when first rules for rookie status began) to go 4-0 or better in April, including the Los Angeles Dodgers Fernando Valenzuela (5-01) in 1981.
Darvish has set a couple of marks in his first month in the big leagues, and it appears the sky will be the limit before his career is over.
Copyright © 2012 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.