Relaxed, confident Yu Darvish improves

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers starter Yu Darvish took the mound with a different attitude Sunday. It started even before he threw his first pitch in an 8-3 win over the Detroit Tigers. Darvish had a quick conversation with catcher Geovany Soto, his battery mate for the first time this season, just prior to the start of the game.

"I told him, ‘Hey, I want to feel good when I pitch. I want to enjoy myself. Let me do that,’" Darvish said through interpreter Joe Furukawa. "It was as simple as that, and he did."

Darvish certainly showed improvement after going through a rough stretch in his last six starts. He was 1-4 with a 7.04 ERA in his last six starts with 24 walks and 48 strikeouts. But on Sunday, Darvish didn't allow the talented Tigers' lineup to put together a big inning off him. Even when he fell behind hitters, he found a way to battle back.

That was evident early, as he faced Miguel Cabrera with a runner at second and one out in the first. Darvish fell behind 3-0 but fought back to get the count to 3-2, then got Cabrera to chase a cutter out of the zone. Darvish threw three straight balls to Prince Fielder as well but ended up striking him out on a slider. That was a big boost for Darvish, who got out of that jam and then was handed a 2-0 lead when Josh Hamilton homered in the bottom of the first.

Darvish did allow three runs, all of them in the fifth inning after a leadoff walk to Alex Avila on four pitches and then three hits, including a two-run double to the always dangerous Cabrera. But the 25-year-old Japanese pitcher still managed to get through 6 2/3 innings and produce a quality start, just the second in his last six outings.

"He was the king," manager Ron Washington said. "He was standing out in the middle, the highest point on the field and he acted like he was the king. He was tension-free. He was confident. He was competing. He was executing his pitches. That’s what I saw today."

Washington said he saw improvement in Darvish's last start in Boston, when he gave up six runs on 11 hits but also had nine strikeouts and pounded the strike zone. On Sunday, the Tigers didn't hit those pitches. Darvish still fell behind a few too many batters and got his pitch count up, and he had five walks. But his attitude after those walks was different -- and better.

"I think the biggest difference from my past was that after I walked those guys, I didn’t think about it," Darvish said. "I didn’t let it drag on into my next hitters. I just concentrated on competing against the next hitter and getting those guys out. That thought process of ‘I walked him, so be it,’ might be the reason that I was able to concentrate and focus on getting the next guys out."

That's probably the biggest sign that Darvish took a step forward. He's going to walk guys -- he's walked at least two in every start but one this season -- but Sunday, only one of those walks came around to score.

Darvish got a chance to work with special assistant Greg Maddux and pitching coach Mike Maddux and said he got some advice from one of the trainers, too. Darvish talked about preparing and working on getting back to the routine he used in Japan.

"The preparation the last few days for this start, going back to the way I was preparing back in Japan, helped and at the same time, I was given some good advice along the way," Darvish said. "As a pitcher, I decided to take in some of the advice that’s going to help me. There was some of that. Blending that together, I think I was able to pitch better than I truly expected."

And he took an important, small step forward. Now his goal is to build on it.