Darvish shows resilience after long first frame
ARLINGTON -- Nolan Ryan stood in a hallway behind the home dugout at Rangers Ballpark on Monday night and searched for just the right words. He had just watched his prized new pitcher, Yu Darvish, survive a nightmarish first inning, and then he'd watched him do something really remarkable.
Darvish settled down, got control of his emotions and somehow got the game into the sixth inning. By that time, the Rangers were well on their way to turning an early 4-0 deficit into an 11-5 victory over the Mariners.
To have pitched into the sixth after a 42-pitch first inning, a first inning in which the Mariners sent 10 men to the plate and scored four times, put a nice finishing touch on a game that was very nearly a disaster.
"I think what we saw tonight is a reflection on his experience," Ryan said. "If it had been one of our young kids that hadn't been in that situation before, I think it probably would have been a lot harder. It wasn't the outing that so many people hoped for, but it was a very positive outing."
If you're inclined to see the glass as half full, you'll see Darvish as someone who still pitched 5 2/3 innings despite a 94-mph fastball that was all over the place and a slider that failed to show up for work.
"When I stepped on the mound for the first time, I was very calm," Darvish said. "But my body felt like it wanted to go and go and go. At the beginning of the game, my mind and body wasn't on the same page."
As for Darvish's curveball, one of them flew over catcher Mike Napoli's head and rebounded off the backstop, and, no, he wasn't channeling that scene from "Bull Durham." Darvish allowed 13 baserunners and five earned runs, but there was beauty in this ugliest of games.
Darvish somehow left the ballpark with his first Major League victory thanks to an offense that clubbed four home runs and helped the Rangers run their record to 3-1 in front of 42,003.
"When you don't have your stuff and to be able to battle through it, that's a big league pitcher," Napoli said. "He's going to have his stuff some days, and it's going to be a lot easier than that."
When the Rangers made a $112-million investment in the 25-year-old right-hander, they made it clear they expected Darvish to step right into the rotation and replace C.J. Wilson's 200 innings.
Darvish was so erratic during Spring Training that Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux admitted he had days when he wondered what the club was getting. Darvish assured Maddux he was simply going about the business of preparing for a season, and by the end of camp, that appeared to be the case.
Then along came Darvish's Major League debut. He opened the game by walking Chone Figgins on four pitches and looked like a guy overwhelmed by the moment. In the end, Darvish showed plenty of guts and poise, but the Rangers would like to see more than that next time.
"He got better each inning," Ryan said. "That was very encouraging. He didn't have a feel for the first inning or two, and he kept battling away. I thought he was pretty hyped up for the game. If you're competitive, you'll have nerves. I'm sure sitting around the last three days has been hard, and I think this probably seemed forever for him before he got out there.
"You know, he looked like a totally different pitcher at the end than he did at the start. I think it was just a matter of him settling down and getting back into a rhythm. I think it was important that he did what he did tonight. I think the fact that he battled through it and [manager] Ron [Washington] gave him the opportunity to stay out there and work through it was a very positive night. I think he was just out of synch. To me, his best pitch is his slider, and it just wasn't effective tonight. He didn't throw very many. He threw about eight straight fastballs trying to get a feel for it."
When Darvish had thrown the last of his 110 pitches, he walked off the mound to a huge ovation. Later, asked why he hadn't tipped his cap to the crowd, Darvish shrugged and said he was unaware of the custom.
"We'll teach him," Napoli said.
Afterward, Washington wrapped an arm around Darvish's shoulders and told him he was proud of the way he'd survived in tough circumstances.
"Our guys are going to battle for him as hard as he battles for himself," Washington said. "He'll get better and better. I think he realizes now that baseball is baseball. That was a quality appearance. I know it'll be better the next time out."
Among the other former Japanese stars Darvish faced were second baseman Munenori Kawasaki and right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Their presence meant that the coverage back in Japan would be even more intense.
"It felt strange to get to face him here in the Major Leagues," Kawasaki said. "I was very happy, very excited. Unfortunately, we didn't win the game."
In the other clubhouse, that's the thing they kept coming back to. On a night when Darvish started so terribly, he somehow fought through anyway, and one of the best teams in baseball did what it usually does.
"Hats off to him," Napoli said. "He kept us in the game and gave us a chance to come back."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.