Almost perfect: Darvish ready to make leap

Back in 1962, Don Drysdale threw 163 pitches in his first start of the season. He went on to win 25 games and the Cy Young Award.

Pitch counts rule today's game, but I'm happy Ron Washington sent Yu Darvish out there for the ninth inning after 106 pitches and let the Astros break up Darvish's perfect game instead of a pitch count that was at a completely reasonable level, even for the first start of a season. And Darvish is used to high pitch counts: In his final year in Japan, he topped 120 pitches in 15 starts, going as high as 145.

Marwin Gonzalez ruined the perfect game with two outs (here's a site listing almost-perfect games), but that doesn't take away from the two lessons from this game:

1. Darvish may be better than last year.

2. This is going to happen a lot to the Astros.

Jason Collette tweeted that through eight innings Darvish had induced 27 swings-and-misses on 106 pitches, which is a sick total. Clayton Kershaw, for example, had 13 swings-and-misses during his four-hit shutout on Opening Day.

Sure, it was the Astros, but this is the Darvish everyone saw in Japan, commanding his fastball and then showing a variety of knockout offspeed stuff. He struggled at times last year with his fastball command and still managed to strike out 221 batters in 191.1 innings. If he successfully hits the corners with his heater, he's going to be even more dominant than 2012.

Of course, we have to be a little careful about reading too much into his 14-strikeout night. The Astros are bad. Carlos Pena and Chris Carter may combine for 60 home runs in the middle of the lineup but they're going to have a lot of 0-for-8 nights with five or six strikeouts. Rick Ankiel is a career .245 hitter and Justin Maxwell .220. And that's the heart of the order, at least in April.

So maybe you don't believe in Darvish's performance against a lineup many would label Triple-A level: Then watch his next game. It will be worth the time to see if Darvish is ready to move into that elite class of Cy Young contenders.