Tonight was the night when expectation met reality. After his first three MLB starts were battles & struggles, Yu Darvish came out in his fourth start and delivered an outstanding effort by any standards, not just that of a MLB rookie.
Darvish entered the game with a 3.57 ERA, which is not a bad mark, particularly when you consider that 4 of the 7 earned runs he had allowed came in his first big league inning, and the other 3 runs crossed over the next 16.2 innings. However, Darvish certainly didn’t display the type of commanding presence on the mound many expected him to. He was only throwing 57% of his pitches for strikes, walking 6.6 batters per nine innings, and in general was struggling to work ahead in the count and establish himself. Despite his deep arsenal of pitches, hitters were locking on to Darvish because he wasn’t finding the strike zone, especially with the fastball. That all changed tonight, in a big way.
Tonight was a nightmare waiting to happen for Yu Darvish. The offensively potent New York Yankees came to the Texas Rangers launching pad of a ballpark with a powerful, yet patient, lineup that was averaging 8 runs per game in its last 6 games entering tonight’s contest. Based on his start to the season, the Yankees would have gladly allowed Darvish to struggle to throw strikes and once again tee off.
Instead, Darvish finished 8.1 innings, striking out 10, walking just two, allowing 7 hits, and no runs. He threw 119 pitches, of which 82 were strikes (69%). His fastball had incredible arm-side run, his cutter was getting in on left-handers wrists all night, he flashed a deadly splitter, and his curveball and slider worked in tandem to induce some ridiculous swings and misses.
Darvish improved to 3-0, and the Rangers have won the game in each of his first four MLB starts. He received just enough help from an offense that had a relatively quiet night. Ian Kinsler’s home run to lead off the game would end up being all the run support needed (the Rangers are now 17-4 when Kinsler homers to lead off a game). When Darvish allowed a 9th inning single to Nick Swisher, Joe Nathan came in and shut the door, needing only one pitch to induce a game-ending double play ball.
The Rangers have kept alive their streak of not losing back-to-back regular season games since August 25, 2011, a span of 48 games.
Watching Darvish pitch tonight it was clear that this was not a one-time performance. This was the beginning of a pitcher beginning to put the pieces together. His arsenal is deep enough, and his mentality is tough enough, that it would not be out of the question to see many more performances of this caliber. That is certainly how the Rangers felt when they invested $107 million in Darvish. Tonight was the first sign that the return on that investment may reach expectations after all.