On December 20th, the Texas Rangers were announced as the winners of negotiating rights with Yu Darvish by posting a $51.7M bid. On January 18th, the Rangers signed Darvish to a 6-year, $60 million deal. On February 21st, Darvish arrived at the Rangers Spring Training camp. On March 2nd, Darvish pitched in his first intrasquad game.
Now, after much anticipation and build-up, Darvish’s first Spring Training start arrived, in which he faced hitters from an opposing team in a MLB setting for the first time. Nevermind that the game was still meaningless and the stat line that Darvish produced is not worth reading too much into one way or the other, this first start of Spring Training for Darvish feels big for Rangers coaches, players, media, and fans. Even Ron Washington was feeling the excitement:
Today’s opponent for Darvish was the San Diego Padres (with new $25 million man Cameron Maybin leading off). Darvish was scheduled to throw two innings, or 35 pitches, whichever comes first.
The Rangers offense graciously went through the top of the 1st inning in short order, so the game could more quickly get to the main event.
Bottom of the 1st:
Darvish began working from the stretch, forgoing the typical wind-up approach with no runners on base. Darvish got ahead in the count on Maybin, mixing 4-seam fastballs (hitting 95 mph) and sliders. Darvish finished the at-bat by striking out Maybin looking on a slider on the outside corner.
The next batter was Orlando Hudson. Darvish got ahead in the count 1-2 on a variety of 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs, before Hudson turned on a 93 mph fastball for a double.
The Padres Jesus Guzman was greeted with a nasty first pitch slider, followed by a fastball pounded on the outside corner of the plate to fall behind quickly to 0-2. Guzman then stroked a hard line drive to center on a slider that stayed up in the zone, but it was caught by Craig Gentry for out number two.
Darvish then made Carlos Quentin look foolish on a fastball up in the zone, a slider low and away, and then flashed a deceptive curveball that Quentin waved at for strike three, and strikeout number two.
Bottom of the 2nd:
Darvish surrendered a leadoff double to begin the inning, despite once again working ahead in the count after throwing a back foot slider and curveball to Will Venable.
Mark Kotsay grounded out to first base on an 0-1 pitch, and Darvish showed that he has been paying attention during PFP drills, covering first base. Venable moved on to third base.
On the third batter of the inning, Darvish again showed his defensive prowess by snagging a high chopper that would have gone over most pitcher’s heads, but Darvish leaped, grabbed it, and fired home to catch Venable in a rundown between home plate and first base.
Now with a runner on first, and two out, Darvish got straight to work on John Baker, jumping ahead 0-2 before eventually striking him out swinging on a slider diving out of the zone.
Everything Darvish threw displayed movement and life. He worked quickly, appeared comfortable working from the stretch, and got ahead in the count to each hitter. He ended up throwing 36 pitches, of which an efficient 26 were strikes. His final line was a well-above-par 2.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, and 3 K. Perhaps even more importantly, he did not appear to be phased by the stage of the moment, despite the high anticipations and expectations that were placed on it.