04/04/12 9:00 PM ET
Darvish ready to add to formidable rotation
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
A semicircle of photographers, cameras and reporters surrounded him, while fans snapped their own photos standing behind a waist-high steel fence. This was a bit different than the Minor League clubhouses and makeshift tents used in Arizona, but the response is still the same.
The Rangers' No. 4 starter can still pack in the media, and he still hasn't thrown a pitch in a real Major League game. But he was pretty good on a Wednesday afternoon against a Double-A lineup, pitching four scoreless innings in the Rangers' 6-1 victory over the Frisco Roughriders.
"Outstanding," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He had good stuff, his [sinker] was running well. He used all his pitches, kept the ball down and did a really good job."
Darvish's next start will not be an exhibition. He is scheduled to pitch against Ichiro Suzuki and the Mariners on Monday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
"I just want to stay with what I've been doing," Darvish said. "Opening Day, even in Japan, I tried not to get overly excited. I'm going to continue to prepare the next four days like it's just another start."
It will be not be Opening Day. That assignment falls to Colby Lewis on Friday against the White Sox. Darvish, at No. 4, will have to have to wait his turn behind Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. Neftali Feliz, who will pitch a simulated game on Thursday, follows Darvish.
"It's the perfect spot for him," Washington said. "Let him get his feet wet, and at some point he'll let us know when he needs to move up. Right now, I'm pleased with the way things are set."
The Rangers return three of five starters from a team that won 96 games last year. The 2011 rotation -- which included Alexi Ogando and C.J. Wilson -- was a big part of that, ranking first in the league with 74 wins, third with a 3.65 ERA and fifth with 994 innings pitched.
Spring Training was the first indication of how the new rotation will fare, and the current five had a collective 3.37 ERA through all their starts -- including intrasquad, Minor League and Cactus League games.
"I'm excited about it," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "Colby has proven to [be] what Colby is ... a leader from the front who can keep us in games. Derek is building on last year and Matt has been brilliant this spring. ... Holland and Harrison have really grown up. Yu fills a big need for us, and Neftali will make his final tuneup tomorrow."
Behind them are Ogando and Scott Feldman in the bullpen.
"That's a manager's dream, to have pitching like that," Washington said.
The Rangers know what they are going to get from Lewis. They have had him for two years and both times it was the same: steady during the regular season and outstanding in the playoffs.
With the other four, there are some unknowns. But the Rangers believe Holland is on the brink of being one of the best pitchers in the league after winning 16 games in 2011. The Rangers awarded him with a five-year contract extension in Spring Training. Harrison, who also had a breakout season with 14 wins in 2011, out-pitched everybody this spring with a 1.13 ERA.
"He was as good in the beginning as he was at the end," Washington said. "He kept the ball down and used all his pitches. He needs to continue to do that. Holland [left] some pitches over the plate and got hit a little bit at the end. But the thing about Holland that was different in the past is he never backed down. He gave up some runs, but he never let an inning get out of hand. That's a sign of maturity."
Feliz may end up better than anybody, once he makes the transition from closer to starter. The Rangers know that may take a year or more and promise patience.
"I'm not going to expect perfection out of Feliz," Washington said. "There are going to be days when he has to get people out with what he has and there are going to be days when he can get anybody out. He has to figure out what to do in games when he doesn't have his best stuff. But we'll give him the ball and stay with him."
His shoulder caused some concern, but Feliz's biggest project was developing the offspeed pitches that could determine if he can make the successful transition. His fastball made him successful as a closer.
"They came around very well," Washington said. "He threw some plus breaking balls and threw some plus changeups. Sometimes he hung his breaking ball and sometimes he held on to his changeup too long. The big thing is to mix pitches. Don't forget the fastball -- he's a fastball pitcher -- but continue to mix the other pitches in."
Darvish, going from No. 1 starter in Japan to No. 4 with the defending American League champions, may have the biggest transition of anybody. There were some rough spots early in camp, but after his work on Wednesday, the Rangers believe he is ready to take his rightful place in a rotation that remains the single most crucial part of their ballclub.
"The guy came over here with a lot of hype and advertisement, and the first couple of outings were rough," Maddux said. "But he got better each time out. I thought the expectations right from the get-go were unfair. But what we saw today and what we're going to see on Monday are the real deal."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.