Darvish shows he's coolest man in the room
PEORIA, Ariz. -- He carried himself like a veteran preparing for another meaningless opening spring game. Yu Darvish showed up to polish and fine-tune and to remember the bottom line wasn't all that important.
"He has pitched in big games," Rangers teammate Michael Young said. "This is two innings in a Cactus League game. He knows the difference. I don't think this is a big deal to him at all."
If 300 media members happened to show up with cameras and notebooks, and if they wanted to track everything he said and did and if the whole thing had a circus-like feel, that was perfectly fine, too.
"It's not the first time he had the media following him around," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
Indeed, that's the thing that could make Darvish's adjustment to Major League Baseball easy. During seven seasons in Japan, he achieved rock-star status. He has been in the spotlight so long that he doesn't appear to be the least bit bothered by it.
"Some of the players were teasing me before the game," Darvish said through translator Joe Furukawa, the Rangers' Pacific Rim coordinator. "They said, 'You're probably nervous, aren't you?' I said, 'No, I'm not.' They still said, 'No, you are.'"
Yes, this was another continent and a better league and all of that. Still, he's 25 years old and has rarely failed at anything. Besides, pitching translates worldwide. He moved his fastball in and out, up and down, throwing it for a first-pitch strike to seven out of the eight hitters he faced in his debut for the Rangers.
In pitching exclusively from the stretch, he showed off an assortment of other pitches too, mixing in a curve here and a slider there, throwing them at different speeds, keeping hitters off balance and turning in two workmanlike shutout innings in a 6-2 Rangers victory over the Padres on Wednesday on a cool, windy, sun-splashed afternoon.
Afterward, Darvish said he was glad just to get on the mound and get this new season started. He was most pleased by two very nice defensive plays he made.
Meanwhile, the Rangers were happy that he allowed a leadoff double to Padres outfielder Will Venable in the second inning and still got out of the inning without allowing a run.
"You try to judge a lot of players on what happens when things don't go the way they want them to go," Washington said. "I never saw him lose his cool at all. He just kept coming. I'm happy for him he got it out of his system. Now he realizes it's just baseball. That's all it is."
Darvish took a 94-mph fastball to the mound in the opening inning. It was down to 91-92 mph in the second.
But for a first test, he passed with flying colors.
"Poise," Padres second baseman Orlando Hudson said. "This man is a long way from home. Coming from Japan, pitching in the States, the pressure from the media, that's a lot to live up to. He gives up a home run, it's going to be like, 'What's going on?'
"I can't imagine what that would be like, to have two countries watching everything you do. You root for those guys. Ichiro set a real high bar. He got about 900 hits. Now this guy, he has to win the Cy Young."
Only 2,910 fans were scattered around the Peoria Sports Complex for one of the most eagerly awaited debuts of Spring Training.
Give Darvish credit for something he seems well ahead of the curve on. While he has been erratic in some of his bullpen sessions, he has got the big league lingo down.
When asked about Venable leading off the second inning with a monstrous double high off the wall in center field, Darvish said, "Well, you know, with the dry air in Arizona and the wind blowing out, it kind of carried the ball pretty far today. To me, it didn't seem like it was hit very squarely."
In the other clubhouse, Venable had a slightly different take.
"Wow," he said. "I hit it good. Maybe his perception of reality isn't right on."
Two spring innings was the beginning of what the Rangers hope will be a long, productive relationship. They believe he'll be just fine in replacing C.J. Wilson in their rotation and backed it up with a six-year commitment that includes a $50 million posting fee and a $60 million contract.
"He fits in well," Young said. "He's a funny guy. He's trying to learn some Spanish. He makes an effort to talk to all the guys. He bounces around from guy to guy to try and get to know everybody. We expect that to continue as the season goes on. It's pretty easy to fit into our clubhouse -- just a really good group of guys."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.