Yu Darvish

Recapping the opening week Silver Boot Series betwen the Rangers and Astros

The opening night of the baseball season came to an exciting start for the Astros and their fans as a young, overachieving team dominated the Rangers, a potential playoff team. The Astros lit up Rangers southpaw, Matt Harrison, scoring six runs off him in less than six innings. Bud Norris looked to be in midseason form, allowing two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings and Erik Bedard channeled his 2007 self, shutting the door by allowing but one hit over the final 3 1/3 innings. The Astros looked like a team poised to shock to baseball world, but perhaps the Rangers just had a terrible game or the Astros just severely overachieved because the next two games exemplified baseball’s polar effect.

The Rangers proceeded to win the series by giving up seven total hits to the Astros over the next 18 innings, quelling the worry of troubled Rangers fans still scarred by the loss of Josh Hamilton. Yu Darvish and Alexi Ogando proceeded to completely shut down the strikeout-prone Astros offense, as the Rangers staff K’ed 30 Astros hitters shut them out in consecutive games. In the series, the Astros also managed to break the record for the most strikeouts by a team in its first three games of the season, with 43.

Not all was bad for the Astros during the series, though. Some of the positives taken from the three games were the emergence of consistent starting pitching and the continuation of Jose Altuve’s consistency. After Bud Norris' solid performance in the series opener, Lucas Harrell held the Rangers to one earned run and six hits in the second game. In game three, Phillip Humber allowed one earned in 5 2/3 innings. In addition, Altuve is hitting .417 and gives fans hope for the Astros to send a worthy player to the All-Star game. In order to get back on track the Astros clearly have to get more disciplined at the plate (especially the middle of the lineup) and the bullpen cannot continue causing all quality starts by Astros starters to be all for naught.

For the Rangers, former Astros great and member of the “Killer B’s,” Lance Berkman, returned to Houston to pester his former team. He went 6-for-10 over the three-game series with three RBIs. Everyone knows about Yu Darvish’s 8 2/3 perfect innings and Marwin Gonzalez, a career .236 hitter, knocking a single up the middle to dash all hopes of history being made in Houston on opening week. Twitter exploded with clever puns like, “Yu mad?” and “Yu can’t always get what Yu want.” Others, such as sportswriter, Bill Simmons, stated his blunt outlook on the Astros future – “Don't worry, we'll get to see someone throw a perfect game against the Astros this season.” In order for the Rangers to return to the playoffs, others in the lineup have to make up for the offensive loss of Josh Hamilton and Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis need to return to form and become more consistent.

When a 7-0 victory feels like a kick to the stomach

I was 2 years old when Kenny Rogers hurled his perfect game in Arlington back in 1994. I’ve watched bits and pieces of perfect games for the last decade, always tuning into the game when ESPN flashes the update that history is about to be made.

I’ve never had the pleasure of watching a live perfect game for all 27 outs, until Yu Darvish took the mound in Houston last night.

It was obvious he had his “ace” repertoire working through two innings, striking out five of the first six batters faced.

The thought of him completing one of the rarest feats in baseball started creeping into the picture when he got through the fifth inning, where he received some of the luck that every pitcher who has ever thrown a perfect game received. Left fielder Chris Carter launched a fast ball to the warning track in left field, looking as if he had ended the magic when the ball came off the bat, but it fell just a few feet short when David Murphy reached up and recorded the first out of the inning.

Rick Ankiel stepped into the box after Carter’s fly out, and lined a fastball to right field, right at Mitch Moreland. The second out of the fifth inning was in the books, and it appeared as though Darvish had permission from the baseball gods to go ahead and finish what he’d started.

He breezed through the lineup all the way through the eighth, and suddenly found himself three outs away from the 24th perfect game in MLB history. At 107 pitches heading into the ninth, Ron Washington gave the OK for Darvish to complete the game, and the entire baseball world turned its eyes toward Houston.

Jason Castro grounds out to Elvis Andrus on two pitches. Out 25.

Carlos Corporan grounds out to Mitch Moreland on the first pitch of the at-bat. Out 26.

Then some guy named Marwin Gonzalez crashed the party, the same guy who hit .234 in 205 at-bats a season ago.

First pitch swinging, he lined a fastball back through the legs of Darvish, and subsequently let all the air out of the balloon.

8.2 innings pitched, 1 hit, 0 earned runs, 0 walks, 14 strikeouts, no perfect game.

It felt like I personally had just lost a chance at perfection. Total letdown

It was one of the greatest pitching performances in Texas Rangers history, and it will not soon be forgotten. The 14 strikeouts were the most by a Rangers pitcher since 1991, when someone by the name of Nolan Ryan did it against the Angels.

It was a masterpiece, albeit imperfect.

My quest to see a perfect game in its entirety will have to wait, but performances like Yu’s last night don’t come around too often.

It wasn’t history, but it was memorable.

Yu Darvish impresses in American debut

It was a picturesque day for baseball in Peoria, Arizona, and Yu Darvish did his best to make his American debut picturesque as well.

Darvish signed a 6 year contract in January, after the Rangers won his bidding rights in December for around 50 million dollars, to become the ace for the two time defending AL champions. On Wednesday, we all got a glimpse of the 110 million dollar mystery man, and he hardly disappointed.

Darvish was only slated to throw 2 innings, or 40 pitches, in his first Cactus League tune-up, and he turned in 2 scoreless innings.

After striking out Padres leadoff hitter Cameron Maybin to open the game on a filthy slider, Darvish quickly proved to be human by giving up a double on a high fastball to Orlando Hudson that found the hole between second and first. Although he found out firsthand what major league hitters will do to fastballs left up in the zone, Darvish stranded Hudson at second, following it up with a bloop to center field and a strikeout of former White Sock Carlos Quentin to end the inning.

Darvish also proved he could field his position in the second inning. Will Venable cracked a 2-2 pitch to the center field wall and led the inning off with a double. Mark Kotsay stepped in next and hit one in the hole between first and second, forcing Michael Young to range to his right to field it. Darvish was quick off the mound to cover the bag, and Venable moved to third. James Darnell followed that up with a high chopper back to the mound, where Darvish used every inch of his 6-5 frame to leap in the air and snatch it, allowing him to catch Venable in a rundown between home and third and eliminating the lead runner. Padre catcher John Baker stepped in next and struck out swinging on an unhittable split finger to end the inning, along with Darvish’s day.

Overall, Darvish threw 36 pitches in his 2 inning stint, 26 for strikes, and featured seven different pitches. His fastball touched 95 MPH, and he had good control of his slider. His command wasn’t 100 % sharp, but Darvish shrugged it off, saying, “As far as what I wasn’t happy with, this part of the season I don’t worry about that much.”

And that’s what Spring Training is for. For most everyone else, it’s about shaking off the rust of the offseason and preparing for the grind of the season. While Darvish attempts to do that, he has numerous sets of eyeballs analyzing him, trying to measure the man against the mystery. If he displays the same stuff he had today over 30 starts in the regular season, I think it is fair to say the Rangers will be happy with their investment.

The RangersÂ’ newly-acquired pitcher Yu Darvish carried a hefty price tag for teams wanting to sign him this offseason.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Spring training has come to a close and the Texas Rangers are taking aim at finishing a job they came within inches of finishing last October.

In 2011, the Rangers roared through the regular season, posting a franchise best 96 wins and winning the American League West by a monstrous 10 games. After a bumpy start to the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Rangers turned it around, taking the series in four games. They rolled through the Tigers in the American League Championship Series and returned to the World Series for a second consecutive season. After a titillating series with the Cardinals in the Fall Classic, the Rangers found themselves a single strike away from taking the throne on two separate occasions, before conceding the series in the seventh game in heart-wrenching fashion.

Now, the Rangers open 2012 hoping to finish the job once and for all.

It’s mostly familiar faces returning for the Rangers, but a busy winter has lead to a few changes heading into the new campaign. Texas returns everyone from the most potent lineup in all of baseball a season ago, but there is a new face in the rotation. 2011 opening day starter and All-Star pitcher C.J. Wilson went Benedict Arnold on the Rangers in the offseason, inking a five-year deal with the rival Angels and leaving a big void in the pitching staff. In his place steps Japanese phenom Yu Darvish, who at the ripe age of 25 has more accolades to his name than most American pitchers will see in a career.

Darvish did not come cheap, as the Rangers had to post $51 million just for the right to negotiate with the 6-foot-5 right-hander. After a month of negotiating, the Rangers finally signed Darvish to a six-year, $60 million deal in hopes of his past success translating abroad.

Darvish was not the only impactful pitcher the Rangers signed in the offseason. After blowing the save in game six of the World Series, the Rangers decided it was time for closer Neftali Feliz to try his hand in the starting rotation. His replacement is former Twins closer Joe Nathan, who comes to Arlington with a career 89 percent save percentage, good for second all-time in the history of baseball. Nathan was robbed of his 2010 season with Tommy John surgery, and had a lackluster return in the first half of 2011. The second half was more telling as Nathan returned to form, and the Rangers are hoping he can reclaim his perch atop the closing elite.

The Rangers enter the new season as a favorite to return to the World Series again, but the path to the top got a bit murkier since baseball last convened. The Tigers added slugger Prince Fielder to their deep lineup. The Angels added arguably the best hitter in the game in Albert Pujols, along with the aforementioned Wilson to a rotation that was already considered one of the best in baseball.

Everyone in baseball knows the Rangers are going to slug with the best of ’em. If Darvish can fill the void left by Wilson and Derek Holland can continue his emergence as a frontline starter, the Rangers will be in fine shape to make another deep postseason run.

Printed on Thursday, April 5, 2012 as: Rangers reloading, seeking first title