SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels doesn't want to add to the already sky-high expectations for starter Yu Darvish. So when the talk of whether Darvish can be an ace this season came up, Daniels distanced a bit. But only a bit.
"I never want to put that label on anybody as a No. 1 starter or ace," Daniels said. "Those things are earned over a period of time. But he’s got a chance. Not everybody has a chance to earn that. He has the ability to do that, but it’s got to be over the course of years before you truly earn that."
The Rangers didn’t invest $107 million in Darvish because they believed he could be an innings-eater in the middle of the rotation. No, Darvish is supposed to be an ace. And he looked like one in his final eight starts of 2012, when he went 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA. All eight of his outings were quality starts.
“I think he found himself his last eight or nine starts of the season,” manager Ron Washington said. “He began to concentrate on what he can do and how to do it and he did it. That sounds simple, but he had a lot of adjustments to make and he did it. I think his confidence is where it should be.”
A chat with the manager while the club was in Boston certainly helped. Darvish seemed more relaxed after that and became a much more consistent pitcher that hitters didn’t want to face.
“He’s a very smart kid. He knew what he was doing out there that day when I spoke with him,” Washington said. “I reiterated what he was feeling. Sometimes you connect like that. Sometimes it takes a longer period of time to connect. That day he felt good about what he did the night before, and it was nice that we connected because I said the same things he felt. That’s why it worked.”
Darvish took all he learned in the first four months of the season and applied it to the final two. He walked only 15 batters in those in those final eight starts and had 67 strikeouts. Opponents hit .176 against him in that span.
Last year, Darvish's first throwing session to live hitters was watched by probably 100 members of the media and just as many fans. Every move he made -- heck, the catcher that caught his first bullpen was front-page news in Japan -- was a big deal. Everything was new.
But now, a year after finishing third in the AL rookie of the year balloting and going through an entire season in the big leagues, Darvish isn't dealing with throngs of cameras. He threw to three hitters Wednesday and went about his work without nearly the amount of attention he got this time last year.
Darvish isn't worried about any of it. His job is to get ready for the 2013 season and prove that he can pitch like he did in those final two months.
"What I have to do is do my job here at spring training and do the best I can during the season, and whatever the result is at the end of the season that's what I'm going to have," Darvish said through interpreter Kenji Nimura. "I'm going to try to do my best here in spring training and during the season, as well."
Darvish is no longer a rookie. He made it through an up-and-down first year full of adjustments and ended up proving, especially down the stretch, that he could get big league hitters out like he did for years in Japan. Now comes a tougher challenge: proving he can sustain it for an entire season.
"We’re just looking for consistency from him," Daniels said. "His natural ability and competitive makeup are going to take him a long way. He’s going to figure some things out. If he’s consistent from start to start, I won’t put numbers on it, but obviously you know what we think of him."
He certainly looked like an ace at the end of 2012. I think after a full year of adjustments and being able to bounce back from some rough outings that Darvish will be even better in 2013. There's a difference between a No. 1 and an ace. But I think Darvish has ace stuff. When the Rangers were scuffling at times down the stretch, you believed that Darvish would get on the mound and stop a losing streak or get them back on track. That's what aces do.
Darvish showed he could stay at a high level even as the pressure of a pennant race increased down the stretch. That's the Darvish the Rangers want to see this season. He appears ready.
"The ultimate goal is to win the championship, obviously, so I don't really know the definition of the ace of the staff," Darvish said. "If you're the first in the rotation, it doesn't mean you're the ace. But the most important thing is that everyone in the rotation stays healthy and be in there in October and win the championship, and that's my goal."
Do you think Darvish will be an ace in 2013?