It's September 5, the Texas Rangers have an off day today, and are sitting tied for first place in the American League West. It's a scenario I would gladly take 10 out of 10 times if you told me early in the season that the Rangers would be here.
If you told me that the pitching staff would be decimated by injuries, Nelson Cruz would be suspended for the last 50 games of the season, and that, despite it all, the Rangers were not only in striking distance, but riding shotgun in the AL West, I'd have told you to sign me up.
And that's why what happened yesterday was, despite it all, so frustrating. Not necessarily the loss itself, but the frustration of watching Yu Darvish absolutely lose his composure in one of the more important games thus far in this 2013 season. I get it, bad starts happen, but it's how you respond when things aren't going well that help determine what you can be going forward.
There's no denying at this point: If you're among those that like to put titles on pitchers, Yu Darvish is an ace. If Max Scherzer wasn't receiving loads of run support in his starts, it's possible that Darvish would be considered the lone contender for the AL Cy Young award. I'd also argue that it's a bit easier to pitch relaxed when your team scores runs for you, which is a benefit Scherzer has had all season.
Whatever the case may be, and I just can't explain it, the Texas Rangers are a worse team when Yu Darvish is on the mound. Most of it isn't his fault. I can't get into the psyche of the ball club, but for some reason, whether it be luck of the draw or some comfort level with Darvish on the mound, the Rangers don't score runs very often when Yu Darvish pitches. At the same time, what happened yesterday did bother me.
In each of the first two innings, Darvish threw 21 pitches. In each frame, only 9 of 21 pitches were strikes. Those things happen at times to even the best pitchers.
Darvish gave up 2 more home runs on the day, making it 8 total he's given up in his last 6 starts. Those things happen at times to even the best pitchers.
Darvish was visibly frustrated by his performance. Any good pitcher is frustrated by a poor performance. Those things happen at times to even the best pitchers.
What shouldn't happen to one of the game's best pitchers is a total loss of composure. In the second inning, A.J. Pierzynski approached the mound after a leadoff walk in an attempt to calm down his pitcher. Darvish yelled at him, and then proceeded to wave him back toward home plate, almost as if he were shooing him to get back where he felt the catcher belonged. He made it clear that he had no interest in what his catcher had to say.
When Mike Maddux came to the mound, Darvish walked away from him near the end of the mound visit. It was a show of total disrespect toward two people that exist in those situations for the sole purpose of making him a better pitcher, and Darvish wanted nothing to do with it.
Yet, when I think about it, this is something that's been building for quite some time, as Darvish has, at times, made an effort to prove the media wrong, and after yesterday's childish display that left Pierzynski yelling at the translator in the dugout, you have to wonder if Darvish attempts to prove his peers wrong as well.
Darvish, earlier this season, had a feud of sorts with the media regarding his pitch selection, proclaiming that he was a breaking-ball pitcher, not a power pitcher. He even went as far as to hint that he got hit harder in a couple of starts because he was trying to do what the media said (throw more fastballs), thus showing that the approach didn't work.
Over the past week, Darvish has acknowledged that the portayal that he can't win close games is in his head. After last Friday's loss to the Twins in which Darvish flirted with a no-hitter before giving up two home runs, he had this to say:
"I felt fine, but in that situation in the seventh inning I told myself I can't allow a home run. And as soon as I told myself that, you know what happened."
I'm not inclined to get into the debate about whether or not Yu Darvish can win close games. While there may be some truth to any good pitcher facing extra pressure in high-leverage scenarios, I don't think that will be the definining characteristic of Darvish's season. What I am inclined to comment on, however, is that Darvish simply needs to worry about pitching.
The sooner Darvish learns to stop worrying about what the media says and listen to those around him that are actually paid to help him, the better. That means listening to what the pitching coach has to say, making an effort to keep up composure when the catcher makes a visit to the mound, and making adjustments to the pitching repertoire based on the lineup instead of worrying about what the media thinks.
There's still a good chunk of this 2013 season remaining, and the narrative remains to be written for Darvish's part. We could be looking at a Cy Young winner by the time it's all said and done. It wouldn't surprise me if he flirst with another no-hitter or two before the end of the regular season. What will surprise me, however, is if Darvish has another game in which he loses his composure as he did yesterday.
Win or lose, the Rangers need their top pitcher to have a longer fuse than that. And no matter where this season finds the Rangers in the standings at the end, it's a better ball club with Darvish is calm, composed, and focused only on the hitter standing at the plate.