Yu Darvish gets Rangers' early call

OAKLAND, Calif. -- When the Texas Rangers start the 2012 playoffs at home on Friday against the Baltimore Orioles in the AL wild-card game, 26-year-old Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish will be on the mound.

Manager Ron Washington confirmed that choice before Wednesday's 12-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics, who secured the AL West by overcoming a 5-1 deficit.

Darvish, signed last offseason after the Rangers won his bidding rights and invested a total of about $107 million to get him in a Texas uniform, will make his first postseason start.

The rookie is 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 29 starts. He's thrown 191 1/3 innings and is third in the AL with 221 strikeouts. Opponents have hit just .220 against him.

Darvish, who had a start skipped last week because of a stiff neck, is healthy and ready to go. He pitched Sunday and his neck felt fine as he gave up three runs in 6 2/3 innings for his eighth consecutive quality start in a no-decision against the Angels.

"He's our big-game pitcher," Washington said. "That's something he's always been in his career."

Since giving up six runs on 11 hits in a short start in Boston in early August, Darvish has been solid. Washington believes that start against the Red Sox was a turning point for Darvish, who has found his command and has pitched deep into games, giving his team a chance to win.

"He's figured out how to use his repertoire now," Washington said. "He's relaxed. He's confident."

Darvish is 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA in eight starts (57 1/3 innings) since that Boston game. Each of those outings has been a quality start, including games with Detroit, Tampa Bay and the Angels -- teams that are in the playoffs or contended until the final days.

"He finally found Yu Darvish," Washington said. "He was searching to find what he was capable of doing over here. I think he realized now that competing, being relaxed, trusting and believing (in his stuff) was what he needed. That's what he is when he's at his best. That goes for all pitchers when they are at their best. He had to find it."

It's likely that Matt Harrison will start the second game, though Washington hasn't made any announcements past Darvish starting the first playoff game.