Yu's acclimation to Majors an ongoing process
Doing fine off field, Darvish working on getting ahead of hitters
From the Rangers' point of view, Yu Darvish's acclimation to the U.S., and the Major Leagues in particular, has been about as seamless as they could have hoped when they invested $111.7 million for his services."The thing is," general manager Jon Daniels said, "he gets it." Understand, Darvish had attained rock-star status in his native Japan (with the flowing locks that suit that status), and so ego could have accompanied him on his trans-Pacific journey to the American League West. Thankfully, it did not. "He doesn't want special treatment," Daniels said. "The [Daisuke Matsuzaka] contract, which, obviously, we looked at [for comparison], had almost $400,000 in perks packages, with drivers and cars and housing allowances. [Darvish's] message to us was, 'Does the rest of the team get it? No? Then I don't want it.'" So Darvish is just one of 25 men in the Rangers' locker room -- albeit the only one who has about 25 men and women covering his every move for Japanese news outlets. And fitting in with the other 24 has not been an issue at all. "He works on his English, he works on his Spanish, he jokes around with everyone," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He's great in the clubhouse. He loves to play baseball, he loves to compete. You do that on this club, and you don't take yourself too seriously, and you're going to be just fine." But acclimating to life on a Major League mound is an ongoing process for the 25-year-old. Darvish, scheduled to start Tuesday against the Yankees in Arlington, showed improvement in each of his previous three outings in terms of results. On Thursday night in Detroit, he held a potent Tigers lineup to one run on two hits over 6 1/3 innings to post his second victory. "It's hard to be perfect right now," Darvish said afterward through his interpreter, "but I think I am steadily going in the right direction of getting better." Even so, he is still looking for the command that was a hallmark of the dominance he displayed in Japan. According to data on Fangraphs.com, Darvish has thrown first-pitch strikes to just 48.8 percent of the 88 batters he's faced -- well below the league average of 59.2 percent. Because of this, Darvish has not been taking full advantage of his deep arsenal of pitches. "The biggest thing is going to be strike one," Daniels said. "He needs to get that so they can't sit on his fastball." Darvish's stuff has come as advertised. His variety of fastballs -- a four-seamer, two-seamer and cutter -- ranges from 88-95 mph, his slider averages 83 mph and he can throw a curveball at speeds ranging anywhere from the mid-60s to 80 mph -- a devastating distinction in speeds. Add it all up, and that's a potentially elite repertoire. Again, though, if Darvish is consistently working from behind in the count, the effect of these weapons is compromised because the opposing batter can just wait for a fastball over the plate. That's the primary reason opposing batters have made contact on 81.6 percent of the pitches they've swung at when facing Darvish. More to the point, they've laid off 58 percent of the pitches he's thrown -- a mark that's higher than the league average. So as Darvish continues to adjust to the improved competition (and what better way to get a taste of the bigs than to face the Tigers and Yankees in consecutive starts in your first month?), he needs to trust his stuff and do a better job of attacking the zone. Even in his solid start against the Tigers, he walked five and needed 121 pitches to get through 6 1/3 innings. "He's got a lot of good pitches," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He has five good pitches, and his breaking stuff is above average. His velocity is good, his delivery is sneaky. It all adds up to plus stuff across the board." Over time that stuff is expected to take Darvish -- and the Rangers -- a long way. Darvish obviously hasn't performed like an upper-echelon starter yet, and the rolling Rangers haven't needed him to, nor did they expect him to do so right out the gate. But the investment the club made in him means the expectation level is high, and so Darvish's adaptation and acclimation will be monitored closely. "I think he's trying to figure out which of his weapons work the best here," Daniels said. "He's facing bigger men, stronger men. It's the same game but with different nuances, and he's adjusting to those. You see the intangibles, the makeup. He's earned the respect of his teammates. The bottom line is that the physical ability is going to play. And when the makeup and intangibles are there, that's going to give him a leg up and help with the transition." The next step in that transition comes on Tuesday.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.