It was an obvious decision.
Manager Jeff Banister revealed the news during spring training that pitcher Yu Darvish will be the Opening Day starter for the Rangers when they face the defending American League champion Cleveland Indians on April 3 in Arlington. Darvish will be the ninth different Opening Day starter for the Rangers in the past nine seasons.
“We feel like we’ve got one of the best pitchers in baseball leading off the rotation for us,” said Banister. “I think that not only physically he’s in a great place but mentally and emotionally. He’s in a great spot. He knows what he means to this club.”
The news did not surprise anyone, expected for maybe a few that thought Cole Hamels might get the nod. Hamels was last year’s Opening Day starter and had a good showing in the win over the Seattle Mariners at Globe Life Park.
However, there’s no question that Darvish is the ace of the staff and when healthy, one of the more dominant pitchers in the game. He missed all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery and made 17 starts last season, finishing the year with a 7-5 record and had 132 strikeouts in 100 innings.
The key for Darvish during spring training this year was to regain control of his arsenal. He’s also been working on a split-finger pitch during the spring, which only makes him more dangerous.
But returning to form isn’t the only reason this year is huge for Darvish. He’s set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Darvish enters his fifth year with the Rangers and has really been a No. 1 caliber pitcher during his entire career in Arlington. The Rangers don’t do a lot of talking about contract negotiations but bringing him back may be high on the priority list.
“There’s a good relationship between the organization and the player there,” said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. “I hold Yu in high regard as a person and a player.”
The Rangers have a unique advantage of having a pair of aces to deal out during the season with both Darvish and Hamels. Lefty Martin Perez has looked good during spring training, locking down the No. 3 spot in the rotation. A.J. Griffin is expected to be as the No. 4 starter with the Rangers contemplating starting the season with a four-man rotation until Andrew Cashner returns from a biceps injury.
But on Opening Day, all eyes will be on Darvish as he takes the mound to start the 2017 season. The Indians will count with Coppell native and 2014 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in what could be a very entertaining matchup. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 next Monday night.