ARLINGTON, Texas -- Anybody out there still think Yu Darvish isn't an ace?
The 27-year-old right-hander owned the term in Wednesday's 6-0 win. It was his first complete-game shutout as a big leaguer, a feat that came in his 74th start. He needed 117 pitches and only 2 hours, 37 minutes to do it, holding the Miami Marlins to six hits with 10 strikeouts and three walks.
"I knew I was going to do it sometime, but I'm glad that I was able to do it," Darvish said through an interpreter.
Darvish said it as if it was ho-hum, but we all know better. Yes, Darvish had 18 complete-game shutouts in 167 starts in Japan. He had 55 complete games. But starters are expected to go nine innings. They pitch only once a week, and pitch counts aren't as big a concern. MLB is different, and Darvish has wanted to become more efficient and prove he can pitch deeper into games. On Wednesday, everything he did was just as an ace should. Let's go through the checklist:
End a losing streak. The Rangers came in having dropped four straight and were packing their bags for a nine-game trip that could decide whether they're sellers or buyers at the trade deadline. No, that's not hyperbole -- even in June. The team was reeling and desperately needed Darvish to go out and get them a victory to perhaps spark some momentum before facing the three teams ahead of them in the AL West standings. Darvish got them that win.
"We all kind of know that having Yu on the mound for this last game was huge," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "He gave us the opportunity to end this homestand on a good note and ride this into the nine-game roadie against the division rivals. Hopefully, we can ride this."
Pitch a bunch of innings to rest a tired bullpen. Darvish made sure there was no activity in the bullpen until the ninth inning. It really was a day off.
"My focus was to go as deep in the game as possible," Darvish said.
Dominate good hitters. Darvish couldn't wait to face Giancarlo Stanton, one of the top hitters in the National League the past few seasons. He came in batting .300 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs. But Darvish got him to pop out on a 2-2 pitch in the first and then jammed him in the fourth to get a pop foul to the catcher. Darvish unveiled one of his devastating sliders in the sixth to strike Stanton out.
Darvish said he wanted to come back out for the ninth in large part to face Stanton one more time. Stanton got a leadoff single but was retired on a double-play ball shortly thereafter.
"I don't have really that much opportunity to face a great hitter like him, so I wanted to face him again," Darvish said.
Become more efficient. The two-seam fastball was the key for Darvish on Wednesday. That pitch allowed him to induce three double-play balls, a rarity for him. Darvish normally gets more fly outs, but he messed up the timing of the Marlins hitters and had them rolling over pitches. The ground balls, especially on the double plays, meant he saved some pitches and was able to pitch deeper in the game.
Darvish threw 37 pitches in the first two innings but averaged 11.4 pitches in the next seven innings, nearly four pitches fewer per inning than his season average. He needed only 20 pitches for the final two innings, completing the game as closer Joakim Soria warmed up just in case.
"It's really important to throw those pitches in key situations, and today my two-seamer was really sinking," Darvish said.
It was the full ace package, and it impressed Gimenez, who was stunned to find out that Darvish hadn't produced a complete-game shutout yet in his major league career.
"I thought he had 15 by now," Gimenez said. "I'm glad they left him in for the ninth."
There wasn't much doubt about that. Manager Ron Washington said the only time he spoke with Darvish was after the eighth inning. Darvish had struck out the side on 10 pitches and was sitting at 107 pitches for the night. The manager asked how Darvish was doing, and he said he was fine.
"I wasn't taking him out until the shutout was over," Washington said.
Once Darvish allowed the leadoff single to Stanton, the skipper turned to bench coach Tim Bogar and told him he was going to sit back and watch Darvish get a ground ball. He did, and, shortly thereafter, the game was over.
"It's not that easy to throw shutouts at the major league level," Washington said. "It's not. I don't care how good of a pitcher you are. It's not that easy. It just doesn't happen that often in the game today. There's many more in his future. The guy can pitch. He has more than one pitch, and he usually finds a way to find the pitches in his repertoire that works for that day. He did that tonight."
The two-seam fastball was key, as the sinking action helped Darvish morph into a ground ball pitcher, churning outs in quick fashion, including the double plays.
"He has nine pitches, and that's a lot to go through on a pitch-by-pitch basis," Gimenez said. "I have a feeling I know when he's going to throw it [two-seamer], but I told him, 'You throw it whenever you want. I'll expect it at all times and if you throw the cutter or the straight one, it's easy to catch that.' He did a good job of keeping the ball down and getting those double plays when he needed them."
One more thing an ace does? He makes his teammates believe they're going to win even before the first pitch is thrown.
"Anytime you have your ace on the mound, you expect to win," Gimenez said. "It definitely helps when you have a guy like that on the mound. Getting him a few runs early on was also big."
It was. Once Darvish had a lead -- it was 4-0 after three and 6-0 after five -- he settled in and made sure the Marlins never even got a chance to make a rally.
After all, that's what aces do.