When Yu Darvish entered his first season with the Texas Rangers in 2012, he already owned an impressive track record while pitching in Japan. But it was unknown if that success would translate to the majors. He eliminated any doubts after producing the best rookie season by a starting pitcher in franchise history.
As he enters his second MLB season, expectations are high that he can not only match, but perhaps even improve upon his 16 wins, 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts from a year ago. After throwing two perfect innings and striking out two in his Cactus League debut Tuesday in the Rangers' 14-8 loss to the White Sox, he did nothing to quell those thoughts.
One blemish on Darvish's impressive inaugural big league campaign was his high walk total. Last season, the right-hander allowed 89 free passes in 191.1 innings, by far the most on the staff. He didn't walk any batters Tuesday, but even if he had, Rangers manager Ron Washington said they are more a byproduct of his style than command issues.
"He's going to walk people because he has so much movement and sink," Washington said. "He is at his best when he has that movement working for him and guys are swinging at it.
"If he walks someone, he pitches around it. He isn't going to be concerned about it and then walk someone else."
Washington also said Darvish is more relaxed this spring. That is due partially because he is going through spring training for a second time. Another reason is a diminished Japanese media corps. Last year, he was constantly followed by a large group of media from his homeland who documented his every move. That is not the case in 2013.
"Mentally he is in a different place. He knows what to expect and he went out there today and had fun and got the job done," Washington said. "What I see more of this year than last year at this time is he is commanding the ball a lot better because I don't think he is trying to impress anyone. I think the only thing on his menu right now is trying to get ready for another major league season."
The results showed on the mound Tuesday, as Darvish took the impressive performances during bullpen sessions and the intrasquad game last Tuesday and brought that to live action.
"It's a different feeling from an intrasquad game, a different feeling and different atmosphere," Darvish said through an interpreter. "I think my fastball was really good today, but this is just the beginning of spring training, so I don't think the hitters are at 100 percent either."