Gil LeBreton

Darvish making his case for Rangers’ Opening Night starter

The question was a fair one, manager Jeff Banister assessed.

But even after Yu Darvish’s potent, two-hit outing Saturday, Banister wasn’t ready to give the answer.

Opening Night in Arlington, 15 days from now, and who’s the starting pitcher for the Texas Rangers?

“That’s fair,” Banister said – a frequent response by the skipper that usually means he’s not all that keen on giving a direct answer.

“But who’s going to pitch and where hasn’t been completely decided yet. We’re not ready to announce anything.”

Darvish, for his part, had other things on his mind after throwing 77 pitches against the Cincinnati Reds. By the time the Cactus League exhibition was called after nine innings, with the score knotted 3-3, Darvish was well on his way to the airport to fly home to be with his wife Seiko for the impending birth of their second child.

In five previous major league seasons, Darvish has never experienced the honor of being the club’s Opening Day starter. He was then-manager Ron Washington’s choice for the 2014 opener, but had to be scratched after coming down with a stiff neck.

Darvish was asked Saturday whether starting against Cleveland on April 3 was something that he deemed very important. He deftly sidestepped the question.

“I think I’m fine with that,” he said. “I think Hamels can do a good job.”

Darvish, as he is wont to do, was showing his respect for lefty Cole Hamels’ 12 years of major league seniority.

But on the broad, sometimes splatter-painted canvas of spring training, Darvish has progressed like a guy who’s ready to take over as the team’s No. 1 pitcher.

It’s semantics, of course. When Darvish and Hamels are right, the Rangers have two aces. Whoever doesn’t start on Opening Night will surely start on Day Two.

“You guys can look at, pontificate, anything you want, but we’re not ready to announce anything,” Banister said. “It’s not necessary.”

Darvish’s 4  2/3 innings weren’t perfect Saturday, but they were filled with calculated dominating moments. Like, only one of the two hits he allowed reached the outfield. Like, when a double and an error put two Reds on in the third, he turned to his cut fastball to get an inning-ending double play.

“I located my cutter really well, and I got the groundball which I wanted in that situation,” Darvish said.

He ended up walking two and hitting two batters, but he struck out six. The highlight was an eight-pitch fourth inning – sinkers and four-seam fastballs – that was Darvish at his best.

But this is the direction that he’s been trending. In four official trips to the mound this spring, Darvish has pitched 12 2/3 innings and struck out 17.

“I think I’m pretty close,” he said.

So is Mrs. Darvish, in a manner of speaking.

When asked about the expected arrival, the pitcher smiled and said, “This is not my first time, but every time it seems unreal, and I don’t know what to expect. It always gives me new emotions when it happens.”

A gift for the baby may be in order, it seems to me.

Not only has Darvish earned the Opening Night start, but it’s also time for his agents and Rangers general manager Jon Daniels to come to an agreement on a new contract.

It’s worth saying again that if the club doesn’t re-sign Darvish, it’s likely going to be even more expensive trying to replace him.

Right now the soon-to-be proud papa is pitching like an Opening Day starter, all nods to Hamels’ senior status notwithstanding.

Pardon my pontification, but a start on April 3 would be a nice baby gift.

That, or candlesticks. Candlesticks always make a nice gift.

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