Yu Darvish looking like the ace of the Texas Rangers

It took time for Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish to work out the problems of his new job, but it seems like he’s a guy the Rangers can rely on as the playoffs approach.

Thursday night in Anaheim Darvish shut down the Angels long enough for Adrian Beltré to win the game for the Rangers with a two-run homer in the ninth inning. Darvish kept the Angels’ hitters in check using a wicked cut fastball and a slow break curveball. It was more of the same for Darvish, who won his 16th game of the year, and you’d think he’s convincing Rangers manager Ron Washington that maybe he can open the playoffs for the Rangers on the mound. Of course, Matt Harrison is making a strong statement to do the same, which creates a pleasant problem for Washington.

Darvish has now gone at least seven innings in six consecutive starts after going 6.2 innings against Detroit on Aug. 12. As of September, he is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA. Want more numbers that speak out loud? Darvish is second in the American League in strikeouts per 9 innings, second in the fewest hits allowed per nine innings and fifth in wins. It’s everything the Rangers could have hoped for when they sang to the 26-year-old Japanese.

Darvish had shown glimpses for the first half of the season of what he could do, but he was plagued with inconsistencies with his control and, in particular, his 4-seam fastball. In fact, he’s still third in the league in walks, but most of that came before his current streak. I was concerned that since the ball in Japan is a bit smaller than the American version, it was causing the control problems that Darvish had. But in the big picture, Darvish himself realized that to be successful he needed to narrow down his range of shots and focus on 3 or 4 that he could throw for strikes when he needed to. Reports in Japan said that Darvish would launch 7 or 8 different types of launches. Maybe that’s fine in Japan, but in the majors, Darvish learned that quality is better than quantity.

Now you see Yu Darvish mainly using 4 throws to get people out. 1) Mid-90s fastball. 2) A fast-cut ball that has a sharp bite. 3) A slow curveball that can register as low as the top 60 on the weapon. 4) A slider, which can work out of your cutoff fastball to get strikeouts. His mastery of those pitches has been outstanding, and as walks have decreased, his strikeouts are closing in on records. Darvish has 214 strikeouts, ranking second on the AL’s all-time rookie strikeout list. Herb Score struck out 245 for the Indians in 1955. Darvish needs 32 more strikeouts to set the league record, which could be a reach because he should only have 2 more starts in the regular season.

Impressive numbers are one thing, but it’s more important to a Manager and his teammates that Darvish is a pitcher who can be counted on to help the Rangers return to the World Series for the third time in a row.

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