July 1, 2013

Darvish takes fast(ball) track as Rangers beat Reds

Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish wins for the first time since May 16.

A Yu Darvish news conference typically has a moment where he says something in Japanese that makes all the reporters from Japan giggle, yet something is lost in the translation to English.

That’s not a slight on translator Kenji Nimura, who continues to be one of the Rangers’ best off-season acquisitions. That’s just the way translating go.

But the translation of one particular question about why Darvish threw so many fastballs Sunday came through crystal clear.

“I just wanted to shut all the people up who were talking about my fastballs,” Darvish said.

Darvish threw fastballs, lots of them, at the Cincinnati Reds. He showcased his four-seam fastball, his two-seamer and his cutter while tucking away his very effective, yet overused, slider in his back pocket.

The change in pitch selection came at the suggestion of pitching coach Mike Maddux and, apparently, just about everyone else after Darvish’s winless streak hit a career-high seven games.

Armed with his wide array of fastballs, which he commanded throughout the finale of a three-game series with the Reds, Darvish allowed four hits in 62/3 scoreless innings in a 3-2 victory and recorded his first win in eight starts.

Whether he agreed with those who told him he needed to make an adjustment, or whether he truly was nagged into submission, Darvish kept hitters guessing en route to his first victory since May 16.

“He mixed his pitches and wasn’t just sitting on one pitch,” manager Ron Washington said. “There were times they were looking for breaking stuff and he threw fastballs, and there were times they were looking for fastballs and he threw breaking stuff.

“That’s what pitchers do, keep hitters off-balance, and today he kept them off-balance.”

He did it by working off his four-seam fastball, which ran as fast as 96 mph. He threw 39 of those, 24 cut fastballs and 16 two-seamers while throwing only 25 sliders and five curveballs.

“I had really good control, and it had a lot of power,” Darvish said of the four-seamer. “I changed a little bit of my delivery, and physically I felt really good today, so I think it had a lot of power.”

He had been throwing around a 50-50 split of fastballs and breaking balls, and hitters had started laying off sliders to get ahead in the count or were actually looking for sliders and hitting some of them hard.

But the Reds didn’t make good contact too often against Darvish, who struck out eight and walked four. One of the hardest-hit balls came off the bat of Xavier Paul in the sixth inning, a one-hop smash that first baseman Mitch Moreland turned into an inning-ending double play with runners at the corners and one out.

The Rangers got two of the runs in the fifth inning on a squeeze bunt by Elvis Andrus and an error on right-hander Mat Latos, and Nelson Cruz singled in another in the seventh.

Cincinnati made things interesting late for Darvish (8-3) and the Rangers, loading the bases with no outs in the eighth against Tanner Scheppers before settling for two runs. Jason Frasor got Todd Frazier to fly out to end the inning with the tying run at third base.

Joe Nathan locked up the Reds in order in the ninth for his 27th save of the season, and in the process secured Darvish’s first win in six weeks.

“As a starter, if the team doesn’t win the day you pitch, it can be very frustrating,” Darvish said. “I was able to keep the game close, and I contributed to the win.”

He did it with his fastball, either because he was listening to constructive criticism or because he gave into the nagging. Based on the results, expect both to continue.

“That’s what we were trying to do — we were trying to be aggressive with his fastball so his off-speed was that much better,” catcher Geovany Soto said. “He moved it all around, was aggressive with two strikes and he got out of jams. He used his fastball and moved it a lot better today.”

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