Yu Darvish’s full head of short dark hair isn’t the only difference with the Texas Rangers’ Japanese pitching sensation of this spring and last spring.
The most noticeable and significant distinction, he said, is a new level of confidence that comes with being more comfortable than the green rookie with long, dyed locks in a foreign land facing unattainable expectations for a first-year pitcher in the big leagues.
“There is a big difference between last year and this year,” Darvish said. “I feel really relaxed very comfortable.”
Darvish breezed through four innings, allowing no runs and striking out seven during a 12-1 victory in an international baseball friendly against an outmanned Mexico City Red Devils outfit.
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The Rangers will get more of a feel for how the right-hander’s new mental state plays through the ups and downs of a long season when he makes his first regular-season start on Tuesday at Houston.
On Thursday, Darvish threw 52 pitches — 42 for strikes —and allowed only two base runners in 14 hitters faced, including Ben Broussard, who struck out on a split-fingered fastball in the second but reached on a wild pitch that catcher A.J. Pierzynski couldn’t handle.
For the spring, Darvish finished 1-1 with a 1.52 ERA and 22 strikeouts and three walks in 17 2/3 innings. Opposing batters hit .138 off him in five outings.
His performance in the Cactus League, plus Thursday’s game, was a continuation of a strong finish to 2012 when he went 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA in September.
Manager Ron Washington noticed differences, too, seeing a smarter and more mature Darvish this spring, particularly in knowing his limitations with what pitches are working and not working in pregame warmup sessions in the bullpen.
“His command is better than it was at the beginning of the year last year,” Washington said. “I don’t think Yu is doing anything that he hasn’t done before.
“He needed to get used to his surroundings and all the things going on last year. But he’s been through it. Now he’s focused on what he can do every day to help his team.”
Washington also judged his lineup ready. The Rangers pounded Mexico City pitching with a 19-hit attack, including seven extra-base hits.
Nelson Cruz had a three-run home run and Ian Kinsler and David Murphy each had two-run shots. Mitch Moreland hit his fifth homer this spring, a solo blast for the home team in an exhibition that shook the dust off the ballpark, which had been in hibernation since a season-ending loss to Baltimore in a one-game wild card playoff in October.
Darvish had a strikeout in each of the first and third innings, three in the second and two in the fourth. He had no walks.
“The sequence of pitches I used today is similar to what I’d use in the regular season,” Darvish said. “I had really good control.”
Broussard’s home run off Joe Ortiz accounted for Mexico City’s only run in the seventh.
“He was outstanding,” Washington said of his starting pitcher. “He had good zip on his fastball. He really pounded the zone.
“He’s gained some experience, and I think he’s more aware of what he can do better. And he’s just going out there and doing it.”