Darvish fits in on and off the field for Texas Rangers

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Grabbing dinner with Yu Darvish isn't quite like going out for a bite with any ol' teammate, but the experience wasn't all that foreign to Ian Kinsler and Mike Napoli.

Darvish hadn't lost his fondness for red meat, which he first showed during a January visit to Del Frisco's in Fort Worth, and a simple Twitter request to his 546,000 followers netted Napoli an additional 2,000 followers within a matter of minutes.

The addition of translator Joe Furukawa to the dinner party took care of the language barrier.

But the conversation and the camaraderie made it seem as though Darvish had been playing with the Texas Rangers two years instead of two months.

Then again, the only concern with Darvish was his transition on the field. No one with the Rangers expected him to struggle in a clubhouse so warm and welcoming that Milton Bradley was temporarily transformed from a problem child to an All-Star in 2008.

Darvish has eliminated worries on both fronts this spring.

"He fits right in. He has that personality of wanting to have fun and just be a part of the team," Napoli said.

"I see him being a good pitcher. He has the stuff and the mentality to get it done. You still have to go out there and do it. But he definitely has the stuff and the ability."

Darvish made his final Cactus League start Friday night in 5-3 Rangers victory late Friday at Salt River Fields against a Colorado lineup that included Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Todd Helton and Michael Cuddyer.

The record will show that Jason Giambi was the first player to homer against Darvish, with a towering two-run shot in the second inning. Helton got Darvish for an RBI single in the sixth, but Darvish had the Rockies most of the night.

He struck out 11 in six innings, with six hits and a walk. The Rangers were ahead 4-3 when Darvish exited the game after throwing 98 pitches.

"From now on, when we play major-league teams, he'll see A players," manager Ron Washington said before first pitch. "I just want him to continue to develop. With each start, I think that will happen."

Darvish will start again Wednesday in an exhibition game at Frisco before making his major-league debut April 9 against Seattle at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Though he hasn't won a big-league game, he has won over his new teammates.

He takes part in practical jokes and will poke fun at himself. And, said Napoli, it's every day.

Darvish has taped 8-by-10 glossies of himself in action on the lockers of shortstop Elvis Andrus and catcher Yorvit Torrealba, complete with light-hearted personal messages.

After his last start, he was asked which catcher -- Napoli or Torrealba -- is funniest.

"Neither is very funny," he deadpanned.

"I'd say Day 1 he was a little quiet, but other than that he seems like he's been here for 10 years," said left-hander Derek Holland.

"I'm not going to say the things he's done. You can't really say a lot about what we've gotten him to do, but let's just say he's been having fun."

Darvish's attempts to fit in haven't taken his focus off the task at hand.

He has concentrated on his two-seam fastball after the Rangers' pitching coaches suggested it could be a difference-maker in the big leagues.

Earlier this spring, after struggling with his mechanics and fastball location, Darvish threw bullpen sessions between starts to iron things out.

Kinsler described Darvish as a sponge when it comes to learning the game, and Napoli said that while Darvish doesn't have a full grasp of English, it's obvious that he's done his American League 101 homework.

"If you say a certain player, he'll give a facial expression of knowing that player," Napoli said. Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram