Sports

Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish is finding his way, and his command

Ron Washington is usually the last person to wonder what might be in a sport that he often says is completely unpredictable.

But Tuesday night the Texas Rangers manager predicted great things could be ahead for right-hander Yu Darvish, who had just dazzled over 8 1/3 scoreless innings.

Darvish's teammates haven't been swept off their feet, at least not publicly, but they didn't deny what they had seen. The New York Yankees were shut down by a pitcher who had found his command and can be nearly unhittable when he's ahead in the count.

Strike one is the best pitch in baseball, whether in Japan or the United States.

Yet, Darvish had to see it to believe it, and learn to trust the players surrounding him.

"It was a matter of putting it all together," Washington said. "You could see it was getting there. He's starting to understand what we're trying to do.

"If he tries to pitch over here like he did in Japan, there are going to be some long nights. You have to use your fastball and you have to get ahead of hitters."

The first two starts of the season saw Darvish do what scouts hadn't seen from him in Japan. They'd never seen a four-pitch walk, nor had they seen Darvish get ahead 0-2 and end up losing the batter to a walk.

They saw both in his first two starts.

Darvish had been trying to get ahead with his best off-speed pitches, balls that were diving out of the strike zone to hitters who were remaining patient.

That started to change last week in Detroit. He walked five Tigers in 6 1/3 innings, but he was around the strike zone and was establishing his fastball. Not only was he establishing it, he was hitting 95 mph and manipulating it.

Credit for the command goes to Darvish, who has tinkered with his mechanics and built arm strength early on this season.

Yorvit Torrealba and Mike Napoli get credit for more fastballs, Washington said.

The catchers and Darvish are still learning about each other, but enough trust has been built that he commits to a fastball and executes the pitch when one is signaled.

"I just believe he has to throw it," said Torrealba, who caught the Detroit start. "He's a power pitcher. Yeah, he has about seven pitches, but in that outing he needed to show people and himself that he's a power pitcher and needs to go after hitters with his fastball."

Said Napoli: "We're still working on it, but it's getting better. You hope that he would have trust in us. He's never pitched in this league. His first two starts he saw that it's going to be tough not getting ahead. He understands that he needs to throw strikes."

Darvish, who will pitch again Monday, also has recognized that he's not alone when he's on the field.

The defenders behind him will make plays when hitters make contact, as Elvis Andrus did spectacularly at shortstop against the Yankees and as Adrian Beltre turned a key double play to get Darvish out of his only jam.

"It's not just those two players," Darvish said Tuesday. "The rest of the infield plays very good defense and the outfield as well. Not only that, but they hit and score a lot of runs.

"It's great to be on this team and pitch with those guys behind me. I trust those guys. I just have to pound the zone and let them play."

That's part of the formula that helped Darvish break through Tuesday. The best could be yet to come.

"He's only going to get better," Torrealba said. "He's going to get more comfortable out there. He's going to have a better feeling out there. It's all about building that confidence, and I think it's going in the right direction."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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