Darvish progresses, but he won't face Angels this weekend

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The next time Yu Darvish pitches in a game will be Sunday against a bunch of Texas Rangers minor-leaguers in an empty ballpark rather than against division rival Anaheim.

That's spring training, where not giving a key rival any sort of advantage for the regular season is par for the course. The goal, though, remains the same this weekend even though Darvish will miss facing Albert Pujols and Torii Hunter.

Darvish needs to continue to make the kind of progress he did Monday while yielding only one run on one hit in four innings against Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and the Milwaukee Brewers.

The performance wasn't all positive on a chilly day as Darvish walked three and hit another, but the right-hander made significant strides with his fastball command and delivery while throwing 70 pitches.

"I enjoyed my outing and facing these hitters today," said Darvish, who struck out four.

"I'm more concerned with how my body feels and moves during a game, and that's still not where it needs to be. But today I liked the way the two-seamer was working. The hitters looked uncomfortable."

Darvish worked extensively on his fastball in the two bullpen sessions after his second spring start last week, when he walked four against Cleveland and had to rely on his off-speed pitches to get outs.

The results were evident in the first inning, when he retired Weeks, Nyjer Morgan and Braun on only nine pitches. Seven were fastballs, and all were thrown from the full windup.

After a 1-2-3 third, Darvish walked two hitters in the fourth but escaped by inducing an inning-ending double play from Jonathan Lucroy on a good two-seamer.

Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux called the Darvish sinker "the best in the business," and didn't backtrack much when asked to confirm the statement.

"The better our fastball command, the better our other stuff," Maddux said. "In Yu's case, that two-seamer is going to get a lot of play. I want to see him have success with it so he believes it."

The only trouble Darvish found was of his own doing. He walked Travis Ishikawa to start the second, hit Lucroy with two outs, and surrendered an RBI single to fellow Japanese import Norichika Aoki in a 26-pitch inning.

The inning-by-inning inconsistency -- nine pitches in the first to 26, 15 and 20 -- was a byproduct of working on situations as he readies for his first regular-season start, which will be either the third game against Chicago or the fourth against Seattle depending on if the Rangers use him to split left-handers Derek Holland and Matt Harrison.

But the inconsistency is nothing usual for Darvish, who said he is on his normal preseason pace.

"Every spring I'm usually not sharp," he said. "My situation right now, I don't see much difference from previous springs."

Braun, the reigning National League MVP, flied out to the warning track in left field in the third inning, and later left Surprise Stadium impressed by Darvish.

"He looks like a pitcher," Braun said. "He's big, he's tall, he throws downhill. He definitely is a presence on the mound, and he's certainly going to help his team. It'll be a lot of fun for us to watch."

The Angels won't be watching Darvish on Sunday morning as he works five innings in an empty Surprise Stadium. Though manager Ron Washington said earlier in the spring that Darvish would face all comers, the decision to bypass Anaheim is just a good baseball decision.

"That's what I said. That's why I don't like to say anything," Washington said. "This is just best for us and Yu Darvish."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

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