For baseball fans, there are few things more enjoyable than a hard fought 1-0 pitcher’s duel. Spectators of Tuesday night’s Yu Darvish – James Shields match-up between the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays were treated to just that. It was the Rangers who came out on top, 1-0, but it was certainly a contest that could have swung either way at any point in the game.
Yu Darvish starts will probably one day cease to be exorbitantly interesting, but today is not that day. The combination of his vast arsenal of pitches that move every which way, as well as seeing him make progress towards figuring out how to be a major league pitcher makes it a visual treat. Darvish completed seven shutout innings, allowing six hits and walking two, while striking out ten. This was Darvish’s second ten strikeout performance in a row, and his eighth of the season. No other MLB pitcher has more than six such starts this year, and no Rangers rookie has ever had so many in one season. Darvish trails only Nolan Ryan for the Texas franchise record for double-digit strikeout games in a season (Nolan had 18, which is just ridiculous).
Tonight wasn’t all smooth sailing for Darvish, however. He worked himself into jams in the 2nd and 4th innings, but escaped unscathed. In the 2nd, the Rays had runners at 2nd and 3rd with nobody out, but Darvish got a strikeout, a short fly out, and a ground out to get out of the inning. In the 4th, the Rays loaded the bases with one out, but thanks to a nifty double play turned by Mitch Moreland, Elvis Andrus, and Darvish, another crisis was averted. It wasn’t until the 6th inning that Darvish got out of an inning without a baserunner allowed. He would set down the last seven consecutive hitters he faced, four of them on strikeouts.
Darvish finished the night with 110 pitches, 70 of which were strikes. He wasn’t terribly efficient over his seven innings of work, but he was more efficient than his counterpoint, James Shields, who needed 121 pitches to make it through the same number of frames. Darvish ended the night with 21 swing-and-miss strikes, which is very good. Darvish’s best pitch was his slider, but he didn’t rely on it, throwing it just ten times. Instead, Darvish worked effectively with his fastball. It was the first time he had faced the Rays this season, which has tended to give Darvish the edge as long as he is hitting the strike zone.
The Rangers bullpen is shortening games right now. Last night, it was the trio of Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams, and Joe Nathan who slammed the door with three perfect innings and six strikeouts. Tonight, it was just Adams and Nathan. Adams allowed a runner to get to second base and was bailed out by a diving stop by Moreland on a smash down the right field line to end the inning. Nathan, however, was unhittable for the second night in a row. Nathan has been doing a lot of unhittable work ever since receiving a cortisone injection to relieve some shoulder inflammation on August 6th. In his seven appearances prior to getting the shot, he gave up nine hits, four walks, and seven runs in seven innings pitched, striking out six. Since then, he has made eight appearances, pitched 7.1 innings, given up only three hits, zero walks, and zero runs, while striking out 13. He has certainly made the Rays look silly with his best stuff, tallying five strikeouts in two innings of work the past two nights.
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