For someone who carries himself confidently on the mound, Yu Darvish spoke in humble tones Sunday when meeting with the media and answering a question about his place in the game.
“I only have won 20-something games here in the big leagues, and I don’t think I’m at a point where you guys could compare me to the top pitchers in Major League Baseball,” he said. “I’m still at a starting point, or I’m not even at the starting point.”
He has a point. Pitchers who are considered the best — like his choice, Justin Verlander — have many more notches on their belts and many more seasons listed on their baseball card.
Verlander, for instance, has a Cy Young award. And an MVP. Clayton Kershaw, David Price and Felix Hernandez, among others, also have been votes as the top pitchers in their league.
Darvish? Well, he was the Texas Rangers’ Player of the Month in April. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.
Despite that, great stuff and the most strikeouts in the majors, Darvish isn’t yet an ace. He has that potential, but for now he has to take the consolation prize of being the Rangers’ ace.
He was back at it Tuesday night, five days after throwing a career-high 130 pitches. Darvish threw 101 in six innings, allowing only one run, but Oakland right-hander Dan Straily worked seven scoreless innings as the A’s beat the Rangers 1-0.
The loss, which dropped Darvish to 7-2, didn’t diminish the way his teammates view him.
“Most guys who have even an ounce of humility when asked, ‘Hey, are you an ace?’ will usually back off,” designated hitter Lance Berkman said. “He definitely has ace-type stuff. There’s no doubt that he’s our ace, and we feel great every time he takes the mound.”
Darvish allowed five hits, and the lone run he allowed came on a two-out solo homer by Yoenis Cespedes in the third inning. Darvish walked three and hit another batter, all over his final two innings, and added only five strikeouts.
The A’s had only one inning when they didn’t have a base runner, and Darvish threw 38 pitches in the fifth and sixth. He said he “begged” to stay in the game, but to no avail.
“He worked hard,” manager Ron Washington said. “That lineup over there worked him pretty good. He was throwing 16-17 pitches an inning. I wasn’t running him back out there. I thought he had taken us as far as he needed to take us.”
Said Darvish: “I was as usual. Nothing affected me from the last outing. … I really begged Wash. I wanted to keep pitching.”
Berkman was hard-pressed to label one pitcher the No. 1 ace in baseball today because he believes that more goes into being a top-flight pitcher than simply having dominating stuff. He rattled off a wide array of pitchers, from former teammate Adam Wainwright to young gun Matt Moore. Darvish, he said, is in that discussion.
Darvish has been a professional since an 18-year-old in Japan, and he was the undisputed ace in Nippon Professional Baseball when he agreed to sign with the Rangers in January 2012.
But he still has work to do stateside.
“His stuff ranks right up there with anybody I’ve ever seen, from a starting standpoint,” Berkman said. “I would venture to guess that he’s better this year than he was last year in terms of having a feel for pitching, and that’s what’s going to continue to develop for him.”
Washington supported Darvish’s stance on the ace talk. Darvish made only the 39th career start Tuesday night, and left it with a 23-11 record and a 3.63 ERA.
That’s good, but a 12-3 mark with a 2.61 ERA in his past 18 starts dating to Aug. 18 is ace worthy. Time, though, isn’t yet on his side.
“An ace, I think in his mind, is someone who’s been doing it a long time,” Washington said. “An ace for us is someone who can take on the No. 1 pitcher from the other team and ace him. And he can take on the No. 1 from any team and ace him.”
Straily isn’t the A’s No. 1 starter, though he looked the part. He allowed only two singles, never allowed a runner past first base, and didn’t walk a batter while striking out five.
The Rangers got him for four runs on four hits and four walks last week.
“He definitely seemed a lot more in command tonight than he did last week,” Berkman said. “He had much better fastball command tonight, throwing it where he wanted to on both sides of the plate.”
And he outpitched the Rangers’ ace.