Rapid Reaction: Yu Darvish nearly perfect

Goodness. That was simply amazing. Yu Darvish sends a nearly-perfect signal to start the 2013 season that he will be in the Cy Young conversation, which shouldn’t be a shock after what he did to finish the 2012 season. So this Rapid Reaction will focus mainly on Darvish, of course. It was a 7-0 win that saw the no-hitter and perfect game end with two outs in the ninth inning. Marwin Gonzalez (of all people) ended Darvish's bid with a grounder up the middle. Darvish, who threw 111 pitches, was taken out right after that.

He’s made one start. But it was so close to perfection and completely erases any disappointing thoughts from the club’s Sunday night loss in Houston. Darvish was always this club’s No. 1 pitcher, whether he started the opener or not. Tuesday was just more proof.

Here are some of my thoughts. Please share yours as well:

  • What a letdown. Everyone was ready to celebrate perfection. And to have it end with two outs in the ninth is tough. Did you see Leonys Martin take his cap and throw it in frustration from the dugout when the hit went through? All of the players wanted to see history. But Darvish made this a very fun night to watch the Rangers.

    * That slider was ridiculous. I remember talking to Nolan Ryan shortly after Yu Darvish’s first game at spring training last year, and Ryan couldn’t stop talking about the slider. He thought it was just a tremendous pitch that was going to baffle hitters. That was on display like crazy on Tuesday. The Astros had no idea what to do against it.

  • Of Darvish’s 14 strikeouts (a career-high), 10 of them were swinging strikes on the nasty slider. Two more were on a slider looking. One was looking at a 97 mph fastball, and the other was swinging on a 97 mph fastball.

  • There was lots of talk about Darvish simplifying his repertoire, but the reality is he’s not afraid to use all of those pitches, but limits when he uses them. One scout texted me to say that Darvish had thrown: 4-seamer, 2-seamer, cutter, splitter, change, slow curve, hard curve and a slider. Lots of different pitches, but Darvish worked off that fastball and slider and then mixed in when he needed to.

  • I couldn’t help but think of last year’s first start for Darvish as he was carving up the Houston lineup tonight. Back then, it was the fourth game of the season and Darvish was pitching on a Monday night against Seattle with an overflowing press box and a large international audience to witness his first MLB start. And he struggled. Darvish walked Chone Figgins on four pitches to start the game. He gave up four runs in that first inning and had three walks and a wild pitch.

  • What a difference a year makes. He’s confident and comfortable and aggressive. He looks like he’s fully in charge on the mound. He’s not afraid of anything or anybody. That’s not the way he looked when last year started -- but it is the way he looked when last year ended.

  • Even though he knew he was trying to make history, Darvish was walking around the dugout and at least staying close to his teammates for much of the time. He wasn't off on his own, though I didn't really see anybody talking to him, either.

  • The only Ranger perfect game remains that of Kenny Rogers on July 28, 1994 against the Angels (I had Astros earlier...must have been on the brain).

  • Darvish really didn't need any spectacular defensive plays to keep him in the hunt for a perfect game. Mitch Moreland did make a nice play going to his left on Rick Ankiel in the fifth and the Astros' Chris Carter did hit one ball to the wall in the fifth.

  • What does this mean for Geovany Soto's playing time? He was supposed to be Darvish's personal catcher. But starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski did just fine with Darvish on Tuesday. After the game, Pierzynski said, "I don't think I've ever been so disappointed in a shutout in my life."

  • Offensively, the Rangers wasted a bases-loaded chance early in a 1-0 game, but it didn’t deter them. The offense piled on runs in waves late with two runs in each of the final three innings.

  • Elvis Andrus and Lance Berkman each had three-hit games, and Washington’s decision to go with Craig Gentry turned out to be a good one, as he had two hits.

  • It was nice to see the Rangers tearing after extra bases, too. Gary Pettis was sending everybody and the club’s speed was on full display. That’s something Washington wants to see from his team more this year. It was what they used to do to teams in 2010 and 2011, but not as much last year.

  • Nelson Cruz had a single, double, RBI and run scored. He’s had a good start to the season at the plate.

  • Ian Kinsler had two hits and scored two runs with an RBI.

  • But this night was about Darvish. You don’t win the Cy Young in April. But you can make it clear you’re in the running, in case there were those out there who weren’t sure. Darvish is in the running, folks. Get used to it. He didn't achieve perfection, but something tells me he'll have some more chances before his career is over. Heck, he may have some more chances this season.