PEORIA, Arizona (AP) — Yu Darvish flashed a sizable assortment of pitches, a huge smile and even some nice leather in his debut for the Texas Rangers on Wednesday.
What he didn’t show was any nerves.
“I’ve thrown in so many games, you know?” he said through a translator.
He Sure has. The 25-year-old right-hander was a dominant pitcher for seven years in Japan before the Rangers spent more than $107 million to acquire him this winter.
Darvish struck out three in two scoreless innings and made a run-saving play in the Rangers’ 6-2 win over a split squad of San Diego Padres. The highly anticipated debut at Peoria Sports Complex was chronicled by more than 150 reporters, most of them from Japan.
“I was really looking forward to pitching today,” Darvish said.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander with the shaggy, orange-tinted hair and a dark goatee whose stated goal is to become the world’s best pitcher threw exclusively out of the stretch, something he had cleared with pitching coach Mike Maddux beforehand.
Twenty-six of his 36 pitches were strikes and he allowed two hits, both doubles, including one by Will Venable off the center-field wall leading off the second inning.
“He was lucky that it didn’t go out,” Venable said, because that ball’s a home run to every part of the park except straightaway center.
Darvish struck out his first batter, Cameron Maybin, looking, and his last, John Baker, swinging. He also made two nice defensive plays, one of them covering the bag when first baseman Michael Young dived to rob Mark Kotsay of a base hit.
“He got over pretty quick. He’s definitely a little more athletic than some of the Japanese pitchers that we’ve seen come over here,” Maybin said.
Then came his really big defensive play.
With Venable racing in from third with the apparent first run of the game, Darvish reached high to snare James Darnell’s high hopper.
Venable froze as Darvish fired to catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who chased Venable back down the line a few steps before tagging him out.
“Yeah, he’s really tall,” Young said. “I don’t think we have many guys who can make that play. So, it’s nice to have a guy who’s really big and athletic and knows how to field his position really well. … Another big plus.”
Darvish said he was happy to finally face big league hitters and was especially pleased with his four-seam fastball that popped the mitt at 95 mph and also his sharp slider.
Yet, he seemed thrilled most of all by his defense.
“Yes, I was kind of waiting for that question if anyone was going to ask me about my fielding today,” he said. “But we’ve been working on that and I thought it went well. I was happy with that.”
Torrealba said he called for fastballs, curves, sliders, cutters, changeups and splitters, and Darvish threw them all with really good command. When Darvish saw that home plate umpire Doug Eddings was calling the high strike, he felt as comfortable going upstairs with heaters as he did spinning offspeed pitches down low in the strike zone.
“He had good stuff, great poise,” Padres second baseman Orlando Hudson said. “… Seven different pitches. It’s hard enough to throw one pitch in the big leagues, man.”
Hudson said he’s an intrigued as everyone else about Darvish’s ability to transfer his success from Japan to the majors.
“He had a good run at the (World Baseball Classic) a couple of years ago, but I can’t say he’ll live up to the hype. As far as stats and looking at what he’s done, yeah. But coming from the pressure from Japan, coming from the states and pressure from the writers, ESPN, that’s a lot to live up to,” Hudson said.
“Every start, eyes on him. You give up one home run, it’s going to be like, ‘What’s going on?’ The first time he goes three innings, it’ll be like, ‘What happened?’ That’s a lot of pressure. I can’t say he’s going to live up to it. Does he have the potential to live up to it? Oh yeah, definitely. We saw some of that today but he’s got a lot to deal with.”
Darvish had a 93-38 record with a 1.99 ERA in 167 games in the past seven seasons in Japan, where he was a two-time MVP of the Pacific League and a five-time All-Star.
There will be huge expectations given he signed a $56 million, six-year contract and the Rangers paid his Japanese club $51.7 million just to have the chance to acquire him.
Texas President and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan has called Darvish a unique talent who clearly has the potential to be a No. 1 starter in the majors. But the Rangers aren’t yet putting that kind of expectation on him even with their huge financial investment.
They’re going to take things slowly.
But so far, so good.
“I asked him before the game if he was nervous and he said no,” Torrealba said. “He looked good out there. He looked like he was pumped to go out there, I saw confidence. When Venable hit a double, he knew right away. It was a fastball, we tried to go inside. He left it right in the middle and he told me right away.
Nerves or not, Rangers manager Ron Washington was glad the hoopla of Darvish’s debut was finally over.
“I’m happy for him that he got it out of his system, and now he realizes that it’s baseball, that’s all it is. He did a great job,” Washington said.
Darvish shook off Torrealba a couple of times but mostly trusted his veteran catcher to call the game.
“Communication was good. I basically talked to him before the game and he basically said whatever I put down he’s going to throw it and he wanted to use all his pitches,” Torrealba said.
They all worked well.
“I only saw three. I saw fastball, change ball and a slider, I think. But they all had good action on them,” Maybin said.
Venable saw five of Darvish’s different pitches and was equally impressed.
“He left the fastball over the plate, but good stuff,” Venable said. “I knew he was going to be good. There’s a buzz for a reason. He met all the expectations that I thought he might.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.