It wasn’t Yu Darvish’s first experience pitching in the United States but it was his first in Arizona, and it ended with a flourish to the extent that a stretch of spring training can include a flourish, as he faced the Rockies’ “A” lineup and fanned 11 in six innings, including Carlos Gonzalez in each of his three at-bats and Troy Tulowitzki in all three of his.
Darvish issued one walk – to Marco Scutaro, the first batter he faced – and continued to have trouble locating his fastball to his second hitter, Dexter Fowler, but came back to strike out Fowler, Gonzalez, and Tulowitzki to finish the opening frame, and as far as Scutaro was concerned, Darvish came back in the fifth to punch the veteran out with a wipeout curve ball that:
- In baseball terms, buckled Scutaro’s knees
- In basketball: posterized Scutaro (hat tip: Jeff Wilson [Fort Worth Star-Telegram])
- In football: broke Scutaro’s ankles
- In Ron Washington’s words, had Scutaro “running back to the dugout like he’d just seen a curve from Bert Blyleven,” one of the great deuce artists the game has ever seen.
Darvish would tell local reporters afterwards that he didn’t feel like he had that many strikeouts, and he was quick to credit Mike Napoli for his pitch-calling and for “the way we worked together,” which helped him “pitch[ ] comfortably.”
The big righthander now has 32 strikeouts in 21 camp innings, if you include his six minor league and intrasquad frames. Limit the look to his official Cactus League work, and you get 21 punchouts in 15 innings.
Of course, the numbers don’t really matter much, but for a player like Darvish, taking on a very different challenge from any he’s taken on before, you’d rather have 32 strikeouts in 21 innings than four in 21, if for no other reason than to feed his confidence in a brand new environment.
Said Jon Daniels after last night’s performance: “This is what he’s capable of. He’s gotten better and better every time out. He commanded the fastball really well tonight. He was able to get a couple of punchouts on called third strikes away and then he really buried his breaking ball.”
Following his final Arizona assignment, his first effort under the lights, Darvish told the press: “I think overall the whole spring in Arizona was a great camp. All my wonderful teammates helped along the way, and I think I was able to have a great spring, and I’m very satisfied with where I’m at physically and mentally at this time.”
Next up: Wednesday against Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt’s RoughRiders squad in Frisco. Then: Monday the 9th against the Mariners, in Arlington.
Between now and then, there’s still the matter of figuring out if the Rangers want to clear more than the one current open spot on the 40-man roster to make room for non-roster players like Robbie Ross (another positive effort last night) and a utility infielder and maybe a right-handed corner bat unless the club decides to go with project Brandon Snyder. (If Greg Reynolds earns a bullpen, it likely means that Koji Uehara or Mark Lowe will have been traded, opening up a spot that way).
There won’t be any more Andres Blanco rumors, as he’s signed a make-good deal with Philadelphia.
There won’t be speculation as to whether Conor Jackson will join AAA Round Rock after all, as he’s signed a minor league deal with the White Sox.
But there’s going to be speculation about hooking up with the Cubs on a deal, because they’re said to be looking for bullpen help (according to ESPN’s Buster Olney) and because there’s a natural soft spot in this market for Marlon Byrd – not to mention a theoretical roster fit for the right-handed-hitting center fielder – but he’s not the player he used to be.
But is he a better solution (ignoring for now the contract factor) than the player Craig Gentry is and how that compares to the player the club wants Gentry to be?
There’s still the issue of Josh Hamilton’s tight left groin that took him out of last night’s game and makes him a day-to-day proposition.
Which will probably push the Byrd speculation above the fold, justified or not.
There are those story lines and a few others to get us through the next six sleeps, but the biggest story of camp for the two-time defending AL champs was how Yu Darvish’s stuff would translate and how he would fit in the clubhouse and how he and the club would feel about things as the club prepared to leave Arizona for Texas, and there doesn’t seem to be any speculation about any of those things, answers to which are as clear as the fact that the term “unadulterated filthiness” is pure paradox but a description that I refuse to reject as I think back on the look on Marco Scutaro’s face as he made his posterized walk of shame back to a dugout at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Arizona.