SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It's clear not only by the things Yu Darvish is doing on the mound, but by how he is reacting to his spring training surroundings, that the 26-year-old is more comfortable now.
Last year, every step Darvish took was chronicled and analyzed. He had to adjust to a new culture, new ball, new teammates, new everything. Now, he's done it all before and knows what to expect. His intrasquad start on Tuesday came in front of about 100 people. It was triple that number last year. This year, NHK used one camera to shoot his outing. Last year, it was a four-camera shoot that included a high camera in center field.
What a difference a year makes.
Darvish threw 24 pitches in his one inning of work. He gave up a leadoff walk to Jurickson Profar, who stole second. He struck out Mike Olt on a slider and gave up a sacrifice fly to Geovany Soto after the inning continued on an error by Elvis Andrus, who tried to backhand a ball hit by Craig Gentry and watched it go right under his glove. Darvish's fastball was at 93 to 95 mph, a good velocity for such an early spring outing.
Last year, Darvish would have been somewhat guarded in his response following his outing. This year, he was cracking jokes and poking fun at his catcher and shortstop.
"Because of that no-name shortstop that committed that error on the routine ground ball -- I don’t even know his name -- but because of his error I had to throw a lot of pitches," Darvish said through interpreter Kenji Nimura.
"He told me he was going to say that in the interview, so no matter what you say I know it was a joke," Andrus said.
Darvish was also asked about working with catcher A.J. Pierzynski for the first time.
"I had heard all the rumors about him from many people and I was kind of scared, but meeting him and talking to him, he’s a nice guy and he’s really comfortable to talk to and if I shook some of the signs, he was comfortable," Darvish said, smiling.
"Thank you, I think," Pierzynski said. "He seems very nice, very polite. He can pitch, so he’s got a lot of pluses."
Darvish said he was pleased with how things went. And he agrees that he's more relaxed.
"I think psychologically and emotionally I’m more relaxed and I feel more comfortable than last year," Darvish said. "Even if I was behind in the count, I wasn’t really scared of throwing breaking balls or being worried about the ball slipping away from me like I was last year."
Andrus can see it too.
"He knows what he’s going to face," Andrus said. "He has a plan against every hitter, against every team. It’s going to make a huge difference for him. He seems so comfortable right now. That makes a lot of difference."
Other intrasquad game notes:
* Alexi Ogando made it a point to throw his changeup, a pitch he's been working on, to a few batters. He threw one to Ian Kinsler and a couple to Pierzynski. The pitch was around 85 to 87 mph, which makes it faster than his slider (82 mph). Ogando's fastball was around 92 mph, but when he cranks it up to 95, the changeup can be a nice change-of-pace pitch for him. Ogando threw 12 pitches, 10 of them for strikes. One scout said Ogando did a good job of using the same arm action on the changeup as he does for the fastball, making it tough on the hitter.
* Tanner Scheppers said he was pleased that he was able to throw a few changeups and wants to throw more. His two-seamer had good movement.
* Nelson Cruz hit a 90 mph fastball on a 3-1 count off Jake Brigham over the center-field fence for a solo home run.
* Kinsler had a nice at-bat with a runner at third and one out (a situation the Rangers struggled with at times in 2012). He hit a ground ball to short with two strikes on him, allowing a run to score.
* Manager Ron Washington was pleased with Martin Perez, saying he kept the ball down, had nice breaking balls that he was willing to throw in all counts. "He kept his rhythm going," Washington said.
* Profar and Gentry both stole bases with Darvish on the mound (and Pierzynski behind the plate). Washington was glad to see his club running aggressively from the beginning. "The chain ankles were off," Washington said. "They're always off. I just had to remind them again."
* Catcher Jose Felix had a three-run double.
* Bobby Jones' team won 7-3, meaning Jackie Moore has to take him out to a steak dinner. BTW, Happy Birthday, Jackie. He's 74 years old today (and as I told him, doesn't look a day over 73).