Seems like a good time for a running diary. So let's do it.
Darvish enters with a 6-1 record, 2.73 ERA, .163 batting average against and 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings, a rate that would break Randy Johnson's single-season record for starters. He throws so many different pitches that Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski says you need special signs for all of them. His wipeout pitches are his slider (33 strikeouts in 76 plate appearances ending in the pitch) and curveball (21 strikeouts, one walk in 35 plate appearances), which he throws at two speeds, unveiling a slow 60-mph-ish curve of late. He sets up those pitches with his four-seamer, two-seamer and cut fastball.
He cruises through a 1-2-3 inning, striking out Torii Hunter on an 0-2 four-seamer up in the zone, as the Rangers fans yell "Yuuuuuuuuu!!!!!", and then getting Miguel Cabrera to fly out to left-center on the first pitch.
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Verlander enters at 4-3 with a 1.93 ERA, .229 average allowed and just one home run. His control has been a little off, however, as he's walking 3.2 batters per nine innings, about one more than last season.
Ian Kinsler, off to a terrific start for the Rangers, lined a 3-2, 95-mph fastball into right-center for a single. A lot has been about Verlander's fastball velocity being so far this year. Let's check his average fastball velocity the past few seasons through May 15:
2009: 95.6 (max: 101.0)
2010: 95.5 (max: 101.1)
2011: 94.8 (max: 101.4)
2012: 93.7 (max: 100.3)
2013: 92.2 (max: 97.1)
Of course, he's learned to dial it down a bit on his fastball the past couple of years, especially in the early innings, and saving that maximum velocity for big moments. Still, he's down across the board so far, not that it's created a problem in results.
Anyway, Elvis Andrus grounds a single into center just past a diving Omar Infante, with Kinsler hustling to third with an ugly face-plant into the bag. He comes up laughing, but he could have inflicted some damage there. Tom Verducci, the analyst on the MLB Network broadcast, makes a good point about Don Kelly, filling in in center for the injured Austin Jackson, playing pretty deep, making it easy for Kinsler to go first to third.
Matt Vasgersian and Verducci relay a story where Tigers manager Jim Leyland says he doesn't care about Jhonny Peralta's range at shortstop, which seems like an odd thing for a manager not to care about. But they've been talking about Peralta's range -- or supposed lack of it -- since 2011, and Leyland is probably a little tired of the question. Leyland might not have clearly explained himself, but maybe what he really means is Peralta’s offense makes up for his range. Then again, Peralta's defensive metrics are actually just fine: plus-2 Defensive Runs Saved in 2011, minus-1 in 2012, 0 so far in 2013. Too bad Leyland doesn't look at this sabermetric stuff, then he could respond with, "Well, you know, Jhonny's DRS is actually just about average. His range is fine. I've always believed the strong-armed shortstops get shortchanged."
On the other hand, check out the Tigers' BABIP allowed the past three seasons:
2011: .292 (17th in majors)
2012: .307 (26th in majors)
2013: .312 (27th in majors)
Obviously, that's a team statistic, but collectively the Tigers do allow more balls than average to drop for hits. Brennan Boesch was the main culprit last season, but he's gone.
Don Kelly homers to right for the Tigers off a 3-1 slider, kind of a hanger down the middle. OK, didn't see that one coming. But we never see Don Kelly coming yet he always finds a way onto Leyland's roster. Kind of a good-luck charm.
Infante singles to center, Andy Dirks drops in a soft liner for a base hit, Infante advances on a wild pitch and then Hunter gives the Tigers a 2-1 lead with a sac fly. Cabrera swings at the first pitch again -- a 91-mph two-seam fastball -- and doubles to left field. Suddenly, Darvish is in trouble. The Rangers intentionally walk Prince Fielder to load the bases.
Victor Martinez, after missing all of last season for Detroit, has struggled so far, but Leyland hasn't moved him out of the No. 5 spot. He battles Darvish in a 10-pitch duel, fouling off seven pitches, before finally lining a sacrifice fly to center. Martinez is a tough guy to strike out, but Darvish has been putting batters away all season, so maybe he doesn't have his Grade A stuff on this night.
Alex Avila flies to left to end the inning, but Darvish threw 36 pitches in the frame and is at 63 already.
As Verlander takes the mound, I tweet: "Somewhere, somebody is saying: You need a shutdown inning here. Don't you always need shutdown innings?"
Well, the short version: Verlander does not deliver a shutdown inning. Instead, he delivers the worst inning of his major league career as the Rangers score seven runs.
Verlander did crank up the fastball as runners reached, touching 99 on a pitch to Nelson Cruz, but it was over the place -- high, low outside. He walked Andrus and Beltre with the bases loaded, but Mitch Moreland had the big hit, a two-out double down the right-field line on an 0-2 slider. Batters had been 2-for-32 against Verlander on 0-2 counts. As I'm looking that data up, Geovany Soto crushes a fastball over the wall in left. Rangers 8, Tigers 3. Verlander is gone, his shortest outing since 2010.
The rest of the game
We'll fast-forward from here. Peralta homers off Darvish in the fourth but the Rangers make it 9-4 after five. Darvish then gets on a roll, looking like the Darvish we expected. After the Peralta home run, he retires 15 of the next 16 batters he faces.
The most interesting aspect comes as Darvish is left in for the seventh and then the eighth as his pitch count piles up. With the big lead you would have expected Rangers manager Ron Washington to perhaps go to the bullpen, but he leaves Darvish in to throw 130 pitches, his high in two seasons with the Rangers. I don't really have a problem here -- hey, I defended Clayton Kershaw throwing 132 pitches the other night -- but I'm not sure it was necessary with such a big lead. You can look at it as Washington taking advantage of the lead to save his bullpen; or look at it using Darvish for an extra 25 pitches when he didn't have to. The Rangers don't have an off day Monday, so it's not like Darvish will get an extra day of rest before his next start. Either way, I see both sides.
His final pitch: A 96-mph fastball to Martinez.
Give Darvish a lot of credit for battling through that third inning to go eight innings in what finished as a 10-4 Texas victory. If this game is to be viewed under the lens of "best pitcher in the American League," Darvish gets the leg up. For Verlander, a game to forget. We didn't get our great pitching duel, but that's baseball: Always expect the unexpected.