Yu Darvish still has a long way to go before possibly becoming the ace pitcher the Texas Rangers thought they were signing when they paid more than $50 million just to talk to him and another $56 million over six years to sign him after a successful career in Japan.
But after a blazing start to the season and some hiccups along the way, Darvish seems to be pushing his peak at the right time of the year, culminating with a gem on Tuesday night against an albeit light-hitting Tampa Bay Rays team, but a good team that could end up facing the Rangers for the third straight year in the ALDS. He went toe-to-toe with Rays pitcher James Shields, who was great in his own right, and won.
It was the first time he's seen the Rays this year, and he improved to 9-3 on the season with a sub-3.00 ERA when seeing a team for the first time. Darvish went seven innings with 10 stirkeouts (his MLB-leading eighth game with 10-plus Ks) and just two walks, giving him 20 strikeouts and three walks in his past two starts. He had his splitter working like a dream, got groundballs and induced 21 swinging strikes, a career-high number for him.
Through Darvish's struggles, many believed he had too much weight on his shoulders — the weight of an entire nation riding on him to buck the trend of overhyped Japanese pitchers coming to the United States. Count Ron Washington as one of those who thought that, but he said after the game he thinks that problem is past his 26-year-old righty.
"I can say in his case he was carrying a lot of baggage and I think he’s dumped the baggage, so we’ve got Yu Darvish here now," Washington said after Tuesday's game. "And when I say baggage, he came to the United States carrying a whole lot and he was trying to impress a ton of people. And I think right now the only thing he’s concerned about is impressing Yu Darvish, and once he does that he impresses everybody else."
Over his past three starts now, which includes a 10-day break in between Tuesday and his previous start, Darvish is 2-1 with a 2.61 ERA, a .203 opponents' batting average and 28 strikeouts to go with eight walks. If he can pitch like that, he might be a No. 1 starter, after all.