ARLINGTON, Texas -- Yu Darvish wasn't messing around Friday in a 6-2 Rangers win. After a week off and a chance to rest his body and refresh his mind, the 25-year-old Japanese pitcher went back to the basics: Throw early strikes and rely on the fastball.
It's a straightforward, simple approach, but certainly effective. Just ask the Houston Astros.
At times this season, it's seemed like Darvish has overanalyzed his approach or perhaps even given hitters too much credit by constantly shifting strategies on them. On Friday, none of that was evident. Darvish went with the basics.
"I didn't overthink too much," Darvish said through interpreter Joe Furukawa.
"He had a good fastball working tonight and he used it," manager Ron Washington said. "He had a good cutter, he had a good ride back on right-handers on the outside corner, he threw just enough breaking balls for strikes that when he needed to bury it, he got strikes on it. That's what he's capable of doing. Tonight he went out there with a plan, followed through with it and really did a good job.
"He just stayed simple. He's got good stuff. He just stayed simple. More than anything else, he pitched off the fastball."
Darvish is tied for the AL lead in wins with eight and has won all six of his starts at home. His six home wins are the most in the majors.
Darvish pitched eight innings, getting stronger as the game went along. He gave up two runs on seven hits with two walks and tied his season-high with 11 strikeouts. He had eight of those strikeouts in his final three innings, dashing any Houston comeback hopes. His final pitch, a 95 mph four-seam fastball, struck out cleanup hitter J.D. Martinez looking and Darvish let out a loud scream and pumped his fist. It was about as much emotion as you'll see from Darvish.
He worked off his fastball and wasn't afraid to throw it as an out pitch, either. He mixed in just enough breaking pitches -- especially that devastating slider -- for strikes to keep the Astros' lineup off-balance, but when he needed to reach back for something extra, he made his two-seamer, cutter and four-seamer work for him. His final three strikeout pitches were fastballs to the Nos. 2-4 hitters in the order.
Houston hitters were just 2-for-11 with five strikeouts against Darvish with runners on base and 1-for-5 with two strikeouts with runners in scoring position. Darvish had a three-ball count to just three batters in the game.
"He throws hard and he's got run and he's got a pretty good slider," Martinez said. "He was working both sides of the plate pretty well. He was in, out, in, out. He just kept us off balance, kept us leaning and rocking a little bit."
Perhaps the most telling thing: Martinez was asked about Darvish's wide assortment of pitches and knew he hadn't seen them all.
"We probably saw fastball, curveball, slider," Martinez said. "He mixed in a two-seam and a four-seam with it."
He forgot changeup. But other than that, Martinez nailed it. Rather than try to throw his entire repertoire at the Astros, Darvish stuck with what was working. Plenty of credit should go to catcher Yorvit Torrealba.
"I trusted Torrealba, trusted what he put down and concentrated on the hitter and made my pitch," Darvish said.
It was as if Darvish treated the outing like a two-part play. The first part was ground balls and pitching delicately at times with the game so close. Darvish walked Jose Altuve, the Astros' leading offensive candidate for the All-Star Game, to start the third on four pitches. He stole second and later scored to give Houston a 1-0 lead. But after the Rangers put up five runs in the fifth inning, an intermission of sorts if you will, Darvish got aggressive. From that point, he became a strikeout machine. Eight of his final nine outs were via strikeouts as he pounded away with his fastball, which was still touching 95 mph even after he crossed the 100-pitch barrier.
"Early in the game I was very careful throwing strikes and just feeling the rhythm of the game," Darvish said. "But the second half, I gave it all and just went after them. Overall, I was able to throw a lot of strikes. I thought it was a very good outing."
Washington said Darvish didn't want the additional rest, but understood the club wanted to give him a little bit of a break and let him use the time wisely. He did.
"I think starting the season, I was pitching mostly every fifth day, sometimes sixth day, and the fatigue kind of caught up to me a little bit," Darvish said. "It showed in that Oakland game. But the manager was able to get on that right away and to give me this time off, which was very positive for me. I was able to reset my body and pitch the way I want, and going forward, I want to continue to have this type of production."
The Oakland start was the biggest reason the club backed off Darvish. He walked a season-high six batters, he hit folks and just seemed out of whack with his mechanics, allowing six runs in just 5 1/3 innings. In fact, Darvish's last four starts prior to Friday were mediocre. He had a 6.53 ERA and was 1-3 with 18 walks and 19 strikeouts in those four games. All of those against opponents who had seen Darvish before in 2012.
The Astros got their first look Friday and had to deal with a rested and refreshed Darvish. The result was more like the guy the Rangers saw carve up a few lineups earlier in the season.
“Yu’s got it," Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland said. "He’s got the stuff to be a special pitcher. He showed it earlier this year. He had some trouble in the last few starts throwing strikes consistently, but he got some work in it looked like and threw the ball great for us. He really put us in the situation to win that game. I can’t say enough about what he did for us tonight.”
Kenton Wong of ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.