Geovany Soto sees it. So does Ron Washington.
Yu Darvish has shown more determination and grit on the mound this spring training. Darvish, they say, isn’t looking to prove anything as he was his rookie season with the Texas Rangers as he transitioned to the major leagues from Japan. He simply is getting ready for what they hope is a strong sophomore season.
“He’s out there like a bulldog,” Soto said. “He’s attacking hitters and going after them with more power. It doesn’t mean he’s always throwing fastballs, but he throws every pitch with conviction.”
Take the second at-bat between Darvish and reigning National League MVP and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey in the third inning Monday afternoon.
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Posey struck out swinging on a slider in his first at-bat and found himself behind 0-1 in his second at-bat. Darvish’s 0-1 offering was a fastball for a ball that Posey called “high and tight.”
Darvish came back with a slider called for a strike. Posey fouled off a 95 mph fastball the next pitch, took a 62 mph curveball for a ball and then lined a fastball to right field that Mike Olt robbed with a diving catch.
Darvish and Posey admitted they were intense at-bats, particularly the second one, considering it’s spring training.
“That was a good one,” Posey said. “Any time you get a chance to face a guy like him — those are the ones you want to get in the spring because you want to see a guy’s best stuff.”
Darvish certainly had the juices flowing for that at-bat, saying, “I was looking forward to facing [Posey]. I heard he was a great hitter, and people are right. He is a great hitter.”
Darvish is becoming a great pitcher himself.
He had not allowed a run this spring until he gave up an RBI double to Hunter Pence in the third inning. That was his lone run, though, as he went 3 2/3 innings of a scheduled four-inning start, allowing one run on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts.
Darvish used his slider as the final pitch on four of his five strikeouts. Posey and Brandon Crawford chased sliders in the second inning, and Francisco Peguero and Andres Torres whiffed at them in the third.
“He’s got good bite on it,” Soto said. “When it’s on, I feel it’s unhittable.”
Said Washington: “It’s extremely good. He had some pretty good hitters buckling at the knees today. It was quick and sharp and had good break on it.”
Along with his slider, Darvish showed he can keep hitters off balance by throwing a slow-down pitch. A 62 mph curveball isn’t a bad thing to have in your back pocket to offset a 95 mph fastball.
“It’s a pitch that I wanted to surprise the hitters with,” Darvish said. “And by looking at the reaction of the fans, I think it’s a pitch everyone enjoys.”
Darvish smiled as he said that and has shown more of a comfort level in his second spring training. He has been able to enjoy camp more this time around and isn’t even scared to rib a few of his teammates in news conferences.
He joked about Elvis Andrus making an error during an intrasquad game last month and delivered another one about Olt’s diving catch.
“He’s an infielder, right?” Darvish said. “He’s probably better off being an outfielder.”
Olt got a chuckle out of it, and all of Darvish’s teammates can see a more relaxed pitcher in the clubhouse and a more determined one on the mound.
“I think he’s very focused,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “It’s his second year, and he obviously learned some things and wants to improve. And he’s good, so he’s going to have good results.”