HOUSTON -- Is Yu Darvish better this season than last, his rookie year?
That's what the Rangers' ace says.
Darvish starts Monday afternoon against the Houston Astros and is a prohibitive favorite to win his 12th game this season. That would leave him four victories shy of last year with nine starts likely left. He is 3-1 with a 1.37 ERA and 35 strikeouts in four starts since missing a turn in the rotation with a stint on the disabled list.
Darvish may be on a roll similar to the one he was on the last two months of his rookie season. He reeled off a 5-1 record and had a 2.35 ERA in his last eight starts of 2012 as the Rangers made the playoffs for the third straight year.
Is he poised to have a similar final seven weeks of this season?
"I don't know if I'm going to have the surge that I had last year," Darvish said through interpreter Kenji Nimura. "But I'm a little more consistent this year than last year, so my main goal is to keep where I am right now and pitch my game every time I go out there."
Darvish said that part of the reason he has been fresh and dominating hitters since the All-Star break is his conditioning.
"I'm in better shape right now so I'm going to pitch better this time," Darvish said.
Darvish's results since the break say that the time off made a difference. Not only did he rest a sore back muscle, but he also tinkered with his mechanics, especially with his fastball.
The results, again, have been of the dominant variety. Darvish can reach 200 strikeouts for the season -- his 192 are the most in baseball -- with eight strikeouts against the Astros. It all starts with the fastball, and it continues with all his breaking pitches; his slider has been a dominant pitch this season.
"I have better command of my fastball, but not just fastballs, but sliders and other pitches," Darvish said. "I'm able to command those pitches in the strike zone, so that might be the key."
Darvish's results show that he has transitioned well to the United States. Opponents are batting .193 against him, which puts him right among the best in the majors.
"He's established that he's one of the top pitchers in the American League," Rangers CEO and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan said. "It's always interesting in the second year in a league because you find out if the hitters are making adjustments to you. Or if you have to make adjustments. Yu's done a good job for us."
On deck: The Rangers go for a four-game sweep of the Astros when ace right-hander Yu Darvish faces Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer (2-0, 2.53) at 1:10 p.m. Monday afternoon on Fox Sports Southwest and ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM and 1540-AM.