June 12, 2013

Rangers need to step up for Yu Darvish

Darvish hasn’t won a game in four starts, but at least he’s still doing what he’s supposed to do.

Yu Darvish, our favorite Japanese import, has already been a smash success this week. Both his bobblehead (made in China) and his Bobblehead Night (45,000-plus showed up at the ballpark on a Tuesday evening) were high-quality stuff.

Not bad for a pitcher who hasn’t won a game in nearly a month.

In no way, of course, should that last comment be considered catty. It’s simply what Yu’s pitching log shows.

Four consecutive starts without a Yu win. More telling is the Rangers are only 1-3 in those last four starts.

Without attempting to bring down the wrath from both sides of the baseball statistical world — the numbers geeks and the watch-the-damn-game hardballers — I will meekly suggest all this needs to change immediately.

As in Thursday night, when Toronto moves in to open a four-game series in the ongoing longest homestand of the season for the Rangers.

But it’s not Yu who needs to change anything.

Not that I necessarily thought I needed it, but respected Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux offered the following reminder on Wednesday:

“Wins and losses do not determine the value of a starting pitcher. Many times he has no control over that. Innings pitched, keeping your team in the ballgame, giving your team a chance to win, saving the bullpen — that’s how the value of a starting pitcher is measured.”

Amen on all that, Mike.

In these last four winless starts, Darvish has accomplished what Maddux was preaching. The numbers and the eyeballs tell us Yu has given up a grand total of eight runs while averaging seven innings per start.

Meanwhile, the bats have provided a grand total of 10 runs in the four starts, although you could say it’s been five starts, since on Saturday, when Yu faced Blue Jays veteran Mark Buehrle, the hitters managed to total three runs in an 18-inning loss.

But I repeat the obvious:

Due to the depleted state of the rotation, the Rangers really need to win games when Yu is on the mound. And it’s happened only once in nearly a month.

The same can be said for Derek Holland, but, of course, no one has the same faith in Derek’s work.

Beyond those two, the rookies, Mr. Tepesch and Mr. Grimm, are being asked to simply keep the team in games for five or six innings, and the same goes for the fifth starter, except injuries have made the fifth guy a grab-bag, newest-guy-from-Round-Rock proposition.

Under the circumstances of ongoing bat guano combined with the injuries to Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando, plus the dimming hope and prayer that rehabbing Colby Lewis will ever get going again, this rotation has performed admirably. Or beyond admirably.

Plus, while the Rangers skidded some in the standings over the last couple of weeks (while Oakland surged in the division), the record remains strong. That’s even more remarkable since, yes, Yu himself has not won a game in a month.

“He’s pitched well enough to win, and he’s pitched well enough for the team to have won all those games,” said Maddux. “But what I really like is this kid is all ears on those days when he isn’t pitching. Yu knows he’s good, but he wants to be better. He works hard at being better.”

If there’s any nitpicking to be done, and some scouts are nitpicking, it involves that massive amount of heat in his right arm being sometimes ignored in fastball counts. In other words, Darvish is nibbling with off-speed stuff instead of using the 96 mph sonic boom.

One scouting voice said, “It’s become somewhat of a trend, and it drives me flat nuts. He’s not dominating like he should be dominating.”

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski was also included in this criticism.

Maddux’s answer was a quick, “Yu pitches. Yes, he’s got the 96 mph heater in his hip pocket, but he’s adapted well to knowing what the hitter is looking for. He knows what’s working.

“But the key element to me is that Yu doesn’t overthrow. He trusts his stuff. That’s the hardest thing in this pitching game to learn to do. Know your stuff and trust your stuff.

“If you struggle with that trust, that’s when you overthrow. Overthrowing will get you killed in this league.”

Meanwhile, the Rangers plow ahead, waiting nightly on the wilting bats to show consistency, hopeful that rookies in the rotation continue to hold together and, no matter what else, always needing a win when Yu is on the mound.

Like, say, Thursday night.

Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM.

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