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Preseason Questions: Will Yu Improve or Regress?

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Since the Rangers failed to land really any of their off-season targets, there are several questions facing the team heading into spring training and the 2013 season.

Today's Question: What can we expect to see from Yu Darvish in Year 2?

No matter what you thought of Yu Darvish's rookie year in Texas, it's impossible to argue that the Japanese pitching sensation that took Texas by storm among a media frenzy didn't make a huge splash with the Rangers.

Darvish finished his first season in the majors, after several dominant years in Japan, with respectable numbers — a 3.90 ERA, 16-9 record and 221 strikeouts, the most by any rookie. His season had plenty of peaks and valleys, from his first start where he got hammered but was bailed out by his offense to his fourth start (an 8 1/3-inning scoreless gem against the Yankees), Darvish's season ran the spectrum of good and bad.

In the end, the 26-year-old power righty could call his season a success, especially the latter part. After hitting a bit of a wall in the late summer and walking too many batters while trying to nibble in the strike zone, he had a key talk with manager Ron Washington following a rough outing in Boston.

After that, he was a different pitcher, closing the season with a 5-1 record in his final eight starts with a 2.35 ERA, while giving up 15 earned runs with 67 strikeouts and just 15 walks.

The key question for Darvish is how hitters will respond in Year 2. After a year of having Darvish in the open for all to see and full scouting reports being done on him, he'll have to adjust to the hitters' adjustments.

Evan Grant, the Rangers beat writer for The Dallas Morning News had an informative article in today's paper about the history of Japanese pitchers, and the rapid decline in their performance after their debut season. The most recent case of that is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had a decent rookie year with Boston, a great second year and then fell off dramatically before signing with Cleveland this offseason. But only one Japanese starter of any significance has kept his performance at a high level for more than a year or two, and that is Hideo Nomo, who won the 1995 NL Rookie of the Year for the Los Angeles Dodgers and had several solid seasons in his 12-year big league career.

Grant cited the fact that the Rangers do not, and never did, view Darvish as "Japanese pitcher," who generally rely on deceptive deliveries and trick pitches, but a power pitcher who happened to be born and raised in Japan.

The evidence of that has been fairly clear, given Darvish's 6-5, 216-pound frame and ability to hit the upper 90s on the radar gun, but he still needs to prove he has staying power.

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