'Stronger' Darvish counted on in 2nd postseason foray

'Stronger' Darvish counted on in 2nd postseason foray

ARLINGTON -- Yu Darvish is in a good place again. And for the Rangers, that place will be on the mound in the postseason for the first time since Darvish's rookie year in 2012, as the right-hander gets the ball in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Blue Jays on Friday at Globe Life Park.

The 1 p.m. ET/noon CT game can be seen on TBS, as well as Sportsnet (English) and TVA (French) in Canada. Following a 10-1 loss in Thursday's series opener, the Rangers know they'll need a strong outing from their Japanese standout.

"Any time you've got a guy like Darvish on the mound, you feel pretty good," said catcher Jonathan Lucroy. "He's given us a chance to win every time."

And this is a chance Darvish has been waiting for since his first season in the Majors, when he was the losing pitcher in the Rangers' 5-1 ouster by the Orioles in the AL Wild Card Game, allowing five hits and three runs (two earned) in 6 2/3 innings.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 TOR 10, TEX 1 video
Gm 2 Oct. 7 TOR 5 TEX 3 video
Gm 3 Oct. 9 TOR 7, TEX 6 (10) video

The following two years, Texas missed the postseason. And last year, when the Rangers got back in the party, Darvish was recovering from Tommy John surgery.

"It's a great thing for me," Darvish said of his return to postseason action. "Last year, I wanted to pitch, but couldn't. This year, I'm physically healthy and I'm ready."

Darvish has pitched in plenty of big games in his past. The 30-year-old was 8-2 with a 1.38 ERA in 11 playoff games in Japan before signing with Texas, and he was the winning pitcher in the championship game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic for his homeland.

Darvish said he's "both physically and mentally stronger" than he was in his first MLB playoff appearance, but he knows from his experience in Japan to just approach a postseason game the same way as a regular-season contest.

Darvish on his health

If that means pitching the way he has in his last two starts in a season interrupted twice by stints on the disabled list as he built back up following his elbow surgery, that will be just fine with the Rangers. Darvish allowed just one run and five hits with 21 strikeouts and two walks in 13 innings in overpowering the A's and Rays in his final two outings.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister says Darvish has his "A" fastball back, which sets up his array of offspeed offerings. He's also letting loose more with his emotions on the mound, a welcome sign for the skipper.

Banister on Darvish's usage

"I like when I see a Yu Darvish that's excited," Banister said. "I think that's when we get his best. This is an extremely accomplished pitcher. I feel comfortable with where he's at mentally and physically."

That goes for Darvish's teammates as well. Having an ace such as Darvish to roll out for the second game of the series behind Cole Hamels, Thursday's starter, is a reassuring situation for the Rangers.

"The fact he looks healthy, looks really good, it gives us some peace of mind," said third baseman Adrian Beltre. "We have two guys that anybody would like to have in that situation."

Darvish on Blue Jays' lineup

Darvish was 7-5 with a 3.41 ERA in 17 starts this season, but he didn't face the Blue Jays. He has a good history against Toronto, however, going 3-2 with a 2.45 ERA in seven starts, with 61 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings.

The Blue Jays haven't seen Darvish since 2014, prior to his Tommy John surgery, but their numbers against him aren't good. Jose Bautista is 1-for-18 (.056) with nine strikeouts, and Josh Donaldson is 4-for-18 (.222) with nine strikeouts, though Edwin Encarnacion is 5-for-16 (.313) with a pair of home runs.

Asked what makes the Blue Jays' lineup dangerous, Darvish flashed a little humor in the wake of his team's history with Bautista earlier this season.

"Try not to hit 'em, that's all I think about," Darvish said.

Greg Johns has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.