Richard Justice

Darvish dazzles, displays poise, guts in gem

Justice: Darvish dazzles, shows poise in gem

Darvish dazzles, displays poise, guts in gem
ARLINGTON -- This is what a pitching clinic looks like. It's throwing strikes and changing speeds. It's showing poise and guts and smarts.

Yu Darvish wasn't impressive because he had a blazing fastball. In fact, he did have one. He didn't win because he had a knee-buckling curve, either. He had one of those, too.

Nor was it his splitter or his changeup or any single pitch that did it for him. On this night, he threw them all for strikes, at different speeds and in different counts.

One moment, he was running a 94-mph fastball in on the hands. Another, he was throwing a big, tantalizing curveball on the outside corner.

Far from the command issues of some previous games, he was brilliant in throwing 82 of his 119 pitches for strikes against the Yankees on Tuesday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. He threw a first-pitch strike to 20 of 33 hitters.

Against a team that makes a living on waiting out pitchers, Darvish came right after them, aggressive from the get-go.

Frame this one and save it. This is the Yu Darvish the Rangers hoped they were getting when they made a $112-million commitment in his 25-year-old right arm.

In front of a sellout crowd of 47,085, with the Yankees in the other dugout, with his fellow countryman Hiroki Kuroda opposing him, Darvish pitched 8 1/3 shutout innings in a 2-0 victory for the Rangers.

Remember that first game three weeks ago? Remember how jittery he looked? That Yu Darvish is gone.

Since allowing five earned runs in those first two innings, he been just about perfect, giving up two in 24 innings and lowering his ERA to a very nice 2.42. Of his 25 outs on Tuesday, he got 11 of them on infield grounders and 10 on strikeouts.

And he had the entire catalog on display.

"That was a lot of fun to watch," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said. "The thing that's unique about him for his age is he has confidence in all his pitches. He gives 'em a different look every time, and it really makes a difference."

He got his strikeouts on curves, on heaters, on splitters, on a little of this and a lot of that. For instance, he got Alex Rodriguez on an 83-mph slider in the first inning. He then got Nick Swisher on a split-finger fastball in the second and Raul Ibanez on a nasty curve also in the second.

"He was everything you'd heard about," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "I can't say enough about him. We had a game plan to make him throw strikes. He definitely did that."

He was at his best in the top of the third inning when the Rangers loaded the bases with none out and the heart of the Yankees' order coming up.

He struck out Curtis Granderson on an unhittable breaking ball on the outside corner of the plate, then threw Rodriguez two tough sinkers.

A-Rod pounded the second one into the ground, to third baseman Adrian Beltre, who began an inning-ending double play.

The Yankees had at least one base runner in every inning except the second, but when Darvish needed an out, he found something that worked.

When he walked off the mound with one out in the ninth, he received a standing ovation and responded with a tip of the hat and a wave.

"I thought he was on his game tonight," Ryan said. "He had command of his pitches. I think it's been a growing process. I think what we've seen is him just getting comfortable with being here in his role."

He showed some emotion, too, pumping a fist after a couple of strikeouts and twirling and pointing at shortstop Elvis Andrus for a big play in the fifth and another in the eighth.

He showed a sense of humor after the game, too, joking about Andrus, who has become one of his clubhouse buddies.

"My shortstop is a pretty good player, but he talks a lot," Darvish said.

When someone asked about having the bases loaded in the third inning, he said, "Until you mentioned it, I'd kind of forgot about that."

There were times during Spring Training when the Rangers must have wondered what they were getting. His command was poor, his pitch counts way too high. Darvish cautioned Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux that he simply was getting himself ready for the regular season.

"He just keeps getting better every time he takes the ball," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Tonight, he used everything he had against their team. He had to with the type of hitters they are. He was effective, very effective."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.