Yu Darvish didn’t have the best night’s sleep Saturday.
He estimated he woke up 20 times, worried that the neck stiffness that forced him to miss his previous start would reappear.
“I was very scared to wake up with a neck injury,” Darvish said. “But I didn’t have any pain when I woke up this morning.”
That’s a good thing because the Rangers certainly needed Darvish at the top of his game Sunday with a ragtag lineup that featured only four regulars.
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Darvish didn’t disappoint, turning in another impressive outing in carrying the Rangers to a 2-0 victory over the Nationals. The win helped the Rangers avoid a three-game sweep, as they went 7-4 on the longest road trip of the season.
The game got off to an interesting start with the Rangers losing both ends of a double challenge that cost them a run in the first inning. But Leonys Martin produced the game’s first run with a solo homer in the seventh inning and Donnie Murphy came through the following inning with a two-out RBI single.
One run would have been enough for Darvish, who struck out 12 and worked out of every jam over eight scoreless innings.
“Darvish was outstanding,” manager Ron Washington said. “That team for two days just swung the bats at will and hit the ball around the ballpark and out of the ballpark. We certainly needed to slow them down, and he did that.”
Darvish gave up a ground-rule double to Denard Span to start the game, and Span moved to third on a groundout by Anthony Rendon. But Darvish got out of it by getting Jayson Werth to pop up and Wilson Ramos to strike out.
He struck out the side in the second and stranded single runners in the third and fourth. After a 1-2-3 fifth, Darvish faced his biggest jam in the sixth. The Nationals had runners at the corners with one out, but Darvish ended the threat by getting Ramos to strike out and Ian Desmond to fly out.
“He did a great job attacking guys, and his cutter was a really good pitch later in the game,” catcher Chris Gimenez said.
Said Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche: “He was good. He wasn’t leaving anything over the middle of the plate. He was painting corners. We were just struggling to put the ball in play on some of these pitches.”
Darvish did exactly what the Rangers needed in helping the pitching staff post its MLB-leading 11th shutout.
Washington thought about pulling Darvish with two outs in the eighth with the left-handed-hitting LaRoche coming to the plate, but Darvish assured Washington that he had enough in the tank to get him out.
And Darvish did by getting LaRoche to fly out and ending his day after 102 pitches. Joakim Soria worked the ninth for his 11th save.
“Today was about pitching,” Washington said. “It wasn’t like we needed shutout baseball. We just couldn’t give up a whole bunch of runs.”
That’s because runs were going to be difficult to come by with the lineup that Washington had to use and Nationals starter Tanner Roark pitching well.
Roark, a former Rangers farmhand sent to the Nationals in the summer of 2010 for infielder Cristian Guzman, held the Rangers in check for most of the day.
He retired nine straight at one point, but the Rangers eventually got to him in the seventh. Murphy led off with a single to center but was thrown out at second when Martin failed to execute a hit-and-run.
Martin, though, avenged himself by driving the next pitch over the right-field fence. It also snapped the Rangers’ six-game homerless drought.
“I didn’t get a good pitch [on the hit-and-run], but then he threw me a changeup,” Martin said. “I made a very good swing on it and made very good contact.”
Murphy added an insurance run in the eighth with a run-scoring single to center after the Nationals intentionally walked Adrian Beltre to get to him.
“You take that stuff personal sometimes,” Murphy said. “You think the other team doesn’t think you’re that good, so I just wanted to get us a big hit right there and got a slider I could handle.”