Gil LeBreton

Yu Darvish ‘appreciation day’ long overdue for Rangers

An untidy first inning made for a warm and restless Sunday afternoon at Globe Life Park.

Yu Darvish couldn’t locate his slider. Rangers hitters couldn’t get anything to fall against Seattle’s Christian Bergman. And as the 31,552 perspiring customers at the ballpark were reminded, air-conditioned baseball remains four years away.

After outscoring the visiting Mariners 20-8 the previous two days, the Texas Rangers managed only four hits and Darvish picked up his fifth loss in a 7-3 defeat.

History tells us that Darvish occasionally has games like this. Days when the dips and darts of the many pitches he throws don’t follow their prescribed orbits.

Leave a two-seam fastball high over the plate and things happen, like Danny Valencia’s two-run first-inning homer, which followed a run-scoring double by Kyle Seager.

“He was missing his location,” Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos said of Darvish. “I think his execution got better in the third, fourth and fifth innings. In the first couple of innings, we were going to the curveball because he had no feel for his slider early in the game.”

Somehow, though, Darvish managed to allow only one run after the four-run first and lasted five innings. Chirinos saw the bright side of that.

“You have to tip your hat to the guy,” he said. “It was really hot outside, and he kept pitching, kept finding ways to get people out and went five innings.”

Chirinos, not intentionally, was raising a long, locally-debated topic — i.e., appreciation for pitcher Yu Darvish.

Where are the World Series crowns that Darvish was supposed to lead the Rangers to? Where, the argument goes, are the Cy Young Awards?

But it’s a shallow argument. You can’t fault the Rangers for allegedly not spending money to acquire starting pitching and then fault them for paying the market price in 2012 to sign Darvish from Japan.

In his five seasons in Major League Baseball, Darvish has been an All-Star three times and finished in the top 10 of the Cy Young voting twice. His 2016 season was abbreviated while he recovered from Tommy John elbow surgery.

He is healthy now, and most of his numbers show it. Pitching WAR, hits per nine innings, strikeouts — Darvish’s name can be found alongside the Porcellos, Kershaws and Verlanders.

Does that translate into a $30-million-a-year free agent in the off-season? Maybe not $30 million, but Darvish’s next contract is likely to be five years at something close to that.

It takes a five-year offer to sign All-Star quality starting pitching in today’s market. Jordan Zimmermann got five years, as did Ian Kennedy and John Lackey.

And if you don’t pay Darvish, you’re going to pay nearly as much trying to replace him.

The Rangers have been fortunate that reclamation projects such as Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross were agreeable to signing one-year contracts. But that’s not a strategy for winning a championship — that’s a wish.

General manager Jon Daniels won’t have to tinker with his everyday lineup much next off-season. Re-signing Carlos Gomez may be the only lineup priority.

That should give Daniels money to spend on Darvish and, perhaps, his Japanese countryman Shohei Otani, who shouldn’t be nearly as expensive as Darvish was in 2012, since the posting rules have changed.

All pitchers go through ragged days like the one Darvish experienced Sunday.

Somehow, though, Yu Darvish remains under-appreciated.

The Rangers can either sign him or try to hit against him. They should know which one is easier.

Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram