Yu Darvish getting smarter, better

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Here's a scary thought for American League batters: Yu Darvish is only getting better.

Yes, it's just two starts. But already, Darvish's elite stuff is colliding with his two seasons of big league experience to produce a pitcher that has the confidence, command and efficiency of a Cy Young favorite.

Darvish baffled the Astros on Friday. He oozed fastball command, locating where he wanted and when he wanted. He then turned the tables on those same hitters, throwing his slider more the second time around the order. Then he pitched backward, working his curve ball and breaking stuff earlier in the counts when the Astros were expecting fastballs. The result was a one-hit, eight-inning shutout performance with one walk and nine strikeouts. He needed only 102 pitches to do it, continuing his trend of lower pitch counts and more innings.

Darvish didn't even have a three-ball count until the seventh, when he issued his only walk. The Astros never did manage to get a runner in scoring position against him. It appears that only a stiff neck can keep Darvish from dominating hitters. Through two starts, he has given up no runs and eight hits in 15 innings with 15 strikeouts and two walks.

Darvish didn't get the win Friday as the Rangers' bats were silent until Robinson Chirinos won it with a walkoff single in the 12th. But he wasn't on the losing side of a 1-0 game the way he was four times last season, either.

"If I could pitch like this in every start, it would be very nice," Darvish said.

And it would be a career-best season, too.

About the only thing that went wrong for Darvish -- besides the Rangers' inability to score runs for him -- was that the fingernail on his ring finger cut the top of his thumb midway through the game. Television cameras caught the blood on his thumb and on his uniform, but it didn't bother Darvish.

"It happened many times in Japan and it didn't hurt more or affect me a bit," Darvish said.

That was bad news for the Astros, who just couldn't do anything. Houston's lineup featured six hitters coming into the game with batting averages under .200 and another hitting .226. So maybe it was expected that Darvish would slice through them without too many issues.

But this Darvish is different from 2013 when he finished second to Max Scherzer in the Cy Young voting. The 2014 Darvish gets ahead of hitters quicker. He doesn't seem to fool around at all, building off his fastball location. He doesn't feel the need to throw all of his pitches, opting to go with what's working.

That approach, gleaned from a couple of seasons in the big leagues, is making Darvish an even better pitcher. If he stays healthy, this should be a very interesting and successful season for him.