Yu Darvish makes last Cactus start

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Texas Rangers starter Yu Darvish pitched his longest and final outing in the Arizona desert this spring, going six innings in the Rangers' 5-3 win over the Colorado Rockies on Friday night in front of a sellout crowd of 12,363 at Salt River Fields.

Darvish gave up three runs on six hits with one walk and 11 strikeouts on 98 pitches against a lineup of mostly Rockies regulars. It was a quality start in Darvish's first appearance under the lights this spring.

Darvish showed off his array of weapons, including a fastball at 94 to 95 mph (touching 96 at times) and sharp sliders and hard and slow curves that fooled batters. He mixed in some cutters and 2-seam fastballs -- a pitch he has worked particularly hard on the past week. And for the most part, hitters were off-balance against the 25-year-old Japanese star.

"I thought it was really good," catcher Mike Napoli said. "He used all his pitches, had a good slider, good cutter, sinker was working really well. When he gets ahead, he's pretty tough to hit."

He did get behind in the count with wobbly fastball command in the second inning to Todd Helton and Jason Giambi, who both took advantage. On 2-0 counts, Helton doubled to deep left and 41-year-old Giambi crushed a fastball over the heart of the plate into the fans seated on towels and blankets on the berm in right field at Salt River Fields. It was the first homer hit off Darvish since he arrived in Arizona, and it erased the early Rangers lead.

But Darvish settled down and found a rhythm. Working mainly from the windup (the Rockies had only four baserunners against him), Darvish worked both sides of the plate and utilized his breaking stuff well. He struck out 2010 National League batting champ Carlos Gonzalez and 2011 All-Star starter Troy Tulowitzki three times each. Gonzalez saw 10 pitches, nine of them strikes.

And Darvish had one curveball in the fifth that had Marco Scutaro ducking to get out of the way, only to hear plate umpire Lance Barrett call a strike as the pitch found the inside corner. Darvish said normally he throws his slower curve to get it over early in the count and his harder curve for an out pitch. But at one point Friday, Darvish flipped the strategy and made his slow curve an out pitch.

Overall, it was just the kind of start Darvish and the Rangers wanted to finish his Cactus League swing.

"I think it's slowly coming together," Darvish said through interpreter Joe Furukawa. "I'm making better pitches, more of them, so slowly it's starting to come together."

Darvish allowed a run in his sixth and final inning of work as Helton and Giambi again got to him. With two outs, Helton hit a sharp single to left to score Dexter Fowler, who had led off the inning with a single and ended up stealing second and getting to third on a wild pitch. Giambi followed with an opposite-field double down the line that fortunately for Darvish and the Rangers bounced over the wall, keeping Helton at third base. Darvish hit Michael Cuddyer on the right hand to load the bases but got Jordan Pacheco to fly out to deep center to end the inning.

Darvish, 25, now will dial things back a bit with a shorter outing -- probably about 65 pitches -- in Frisco against the Rangers' Double-A squad Wednesday before pitching April 9 against the Seattle Mariners and fellow Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki.

Darvish, who arrived in Surprise, Ariz., on Feb. 21 with plenty of photographers and reporters from Japan waiting for him, has pitched under a microscope all spring. His every long-toss session, all his conditioning work, his bullpen routine and his every start have been scrutinized by international media. He's impressed scouts with the movement on his pitches and the mechanics of his delivery.

He has worked on his windup delivery and some specific pitches, and has seen improvement as the spring has progressed.

"I think overall the whole spring in Arizona was a great camp," Darvish said. "All my wonderful teammates helped along the way, and I think I was able to have a great spring, and I'm very satisfied with where I'm at physically and mentally at this time."

Darvish now has thrown 21 combined innings in Cactus League, minor league or intrasquad games, and has allowed 10 runs on 18 hits with 11 walks and 32 strikeouts (only the Cactus League games count as official spring numbers, and he has a 3.60 ERA in 15 innings with 21 strikeouts in those games).

Of course, the Rangers aren't too concerned about spring training numbers. They've seen a pitcher who has thrown quality pitches, has stayed healthy and has worked hard preparing for his first big league season. Darvish has spent time with catchers Yorvit Torrealba and Napoli so they can better understand his repertoire and plan on the mound. Darvish also has made an effort to seek out a different teammate each day during stretching to get to know them all better.

Add it up, and the 6-foot-5, 215-pound hurler has already started to acclimate to life in the United States and to his new major league home. Darvish put together seven solid seasons with the Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League (93-38, 1.99 ERA in 164 starts/1,268 1/3 innings), and in just a little more than a week, he'll get a chance to see whether all his preparation pays off with a victory in his debut.

The Rangers have sold about 5,000 tickets to the April 9 game since announcing that Darvish would start that night. Good seats are still available, club officials said.