In any language, Yu is the Rangers’ ace

Posted Sunday, May. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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lebreton It was time to ask for a translation.

How do you say “ace” in Japanese? I inquired of Sam Onoda, who covers baseball for Japan’s NHK network.

“Ace,” answered Onoda-san. “Same as here.”

Same, indeed.

Just one month into his second season of pitching in the U.S. major leagues, Yu Darvish is translating perfectly.

Matched against Boston’s best, Jon Lester, on Sunday afternoon, Darvish again showed why the Texas Rangers were willing to pay a record $51.7 million just for the right to negotiate a contract with him.

Darvish is an ace. He has beguiled hitters and pitched like a starter worthy of that title all season.

On Sunday, after surrendering two early Red Sox home runs, the 26-year-old right-hander from Japan settled down to work seven innings and throw 127 pitches. The major league leader in strikeouts added 14 more.

This is what a pitching staff’s ace, a true No. 1 starter, does — 127 pitches, four hits allowed and 14 strikeouts. All on a day when the Rangers completed a three-game sweep of a team that’s leading the American League East and was throwing its best pitcher.

“He’s been ridiculous, that’s the bottom line,” said Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who delivered the game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth. “He came out there today and he pitched like an ace.

“He threw almost 130 pitches and struck out 14 guys against one of the best lineups in the American League. It says a lot.”

It says ace. An elite ace. A first-game-of-a-postseason-series ace.

Think Darvish versus Sabathia. Darvish versus Verlander. Darvish versus Kershaw.

That kind of ace. The Rangers’ franchise has seldom had one.

“We never doubted that,” manager Ron Washington said, when asked about the elite level that Darvish has quickly ascended to.

“It’s not anything we need to talk about, but he’s a No. 1 pitcher. He’s always been a No. 1 pitcher. He just had to get his feet on the ground in the United States, and he’s done that.”

A year ago, as Washington alluded, Darvish had his moments when he seemed like a koi out of water. He walked 89 in 2012, fourth-most in the AL, and went through a stretch at midseason where he lost six of 10 decisions.

But something else about Darvish that has quickly translated — his competitiveness and his ability to adjust.

Things seemed to change for Darvish on Aug. 12 of last season in a start against Detroit. Since that game, he’s won 10 of 12 decisions and only once has allowed more than three runs.

The adjustments Sunday were just as impressive. The hot-hitting David Ortiz rocked Darvish for a two-run homer in the first inning, and Boston catcher David Ross reached the big-ticket seats in left field in the second. The Red Sox had a prompt 3-0 lead.

“When you give up three runs and you’ve got Lester on the other side, you know it’s going to be an uphill battle,” Washington said.

But as Darvish himself explained, “You try to forget about it. The game goes on.”

After six innings, Darvish had thrown 105 pitches. There was no club policy, though, no Yu Rules, to dictate that he not pitch the seventh.

“There are days when he’ll get pushed,” Washington said, “and this was one of those days. Don’t take what we do as Bible. Things change.”

Washington cited Darvish’s repertoire as the key to his success this season.

“He has pitches, and he can throw anything at any time for a strike,” the manager said. “Plus, he’s a very tough competitor. No doubt about it.

“We feel good when he matches up against the other team’s best or the best in the American League. He’s just continuing to establish himself.”

He’s the kind of pitcher, in other words, who would give the Rangers a chance in a showdown game against anyone — Sabathia, Verlander, King Felix or Weaver. He’s the guy the Rangers would want starting for them in Game 1 of the World Series.

The final batter, his 127th pitch on Sunday, came with a runner in scoring position in the seventh inning. He struck out Pedro Ciriaco and then pumped his fists and shook his shoulders in a rare on-field display of emotion.

Then, just as quickly, Yu-san righted himself and walked respectfully to the dugout. Rangers fans came cheering to their feet.

They didn’t need a translation.

He’s the ace.  

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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