Two at-bats against the National League's reigning Most Valuable Player brought out the competitive fire for Darvish and Nathan in an otherwise meaningless Cactus League game Monday afternoon. The Giants' 2-1 victory may have been an exhibition game but there were a couple of flashes of regular-season intensity from Darvish and Nathan when Posey came to the plate.
"I was really looking forward to facing him," Darvish said. "I heard he's a great hitter. People were right, he is a great hitter."
Darvish, making his third start of the Cactus League, began his afternoon with two scoreless innings and struck out Francisco Peguero to lead off the third. But Kensuke Tanaka reached on a grounder back up the middle that deflected off Darvish's glove. Tanaka stole second as Andres Torres struck out on a 3-2 pitch and then went to third on an infield single by Tony Abreu.
Hunter Pence followed with a double to drive home Tanaka and leave runners at second and third with two outs. It also brought up Posey, who struck out in his first at-bat against Darvish. This time they went after it pretty good.
Posey took a rip on a 90 mph fastball and hit it foul. Another 90 mph fastball came up and in, backing Posey off the plate.
"I don't know if he was trying a front-door cutter or something, but yes, it was high and tight," Posey said.
Darvish then fired a slider that Posey took for a strike. The slider was working beautifully for Darvish all afternoon.
"He had a snap-dragon slider today," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I thought his [competitive juices] were flowing all day."
Darvish then dialed up a 95 mph fastball and Posey fought it off, slicing it foul down the right-field line. Darvish followed that with a 62 mph achingly slow curve that froze Posey. But home-plate umpire Mike Muchlinski called it a ball.
Darvish tried one more fastball and Posey hit a hard line drive to right. But Mike Olt, a third baseman trying to learn to play the outfield, came running in and made a terrific diving catch to end the inning.
"That was a pretty good catch," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He tried to downplay it, but the dugout was pretty fired up."
Darvish laughed about it later.
"He's an infielder, right?" Darvish said. "I think he's better as an outfielder."
The catch ended what Washington called a "pretty good at-bat" and even Posey seemed to enjoy the moment his meeting with Darvish.
"That was a good one," Posey said. "Any time you get a chance to face a guy like him, even Nathan in my last at-bat, those are the ones you want to get in the spring because you want to see a guy's best stuff."
Posey did get to see Nathan's best stuff a couple of innings later. Darvish's day ended at 64 pitches with two outs in the fourth. Coty Woods got out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out Torres to end the fourth -- Torres angrily snapped his bat in two as he walked away -- and Nathan took over in the fifth with the Giants still leading, 1-0.
He started off by giving up back-to-back triples to Abreu and Pence, giving the Giants a two-run lead. It also seemed to prod Nathan into regular-season mode.
"That's his mentality," Kinsler said. "It may be Spring Training but you still want to get results."
Nathan unleashed a wicked slider and went to work. Posey struck out on three pitches and Brandon Belt went down swinging in five pitches. Nathan then needed just four to strike out Brandon Crawford to end the inning.
"That's the best I've seen the slider this spring," Nathan said. "I started getting on top of it and more behind it, and any time I'm getting good hitters to swing over the top of them, I know I'm starting to get there. It's a step in the right direction."
The Rangers still had their five-game winning streak come to an end. The Giants ended up with a 2-1 victory and the game will quickly slip into Cactus League obscurity. But that didn't seem to matter to Darvish and Nathan, especially with the MVP at the plate.