What if Yu Darvish is really a cyborg sent to exact Ian Kinsler's revenge? Have you ever considered the thought?
For his first start of the 2014 season, Darvish's outing couldn't have been more pleasing to the eyes, both in substance and results. We'd been hearing for much of Spring Training that perhaps Darvish was working on doing a bit less nibbling, instead opting to attack hitters more frequently. The idea was that he would be able to work deeper into games, keep his pitch count down, and reduce the amount of walks issued.
If yesterday was any sort of indicator -- although yes, it is a small sample size -- then we're definitely in for a treat this season. Coming into yesterday, the Rays were tied atop the American League in runs scored, and Darvish was able to post 7.0 shutout innings. He did so on only 89 pitches. Had it not been his first outing since March 16, it's highly likely he would have been sent out for at least the 8th inning, but it's probable that Ron Washington didn't want to press the issue, instead choosing to trust that his bullpen could get the job done.
Of the 89 pitches Darvish threw, 65 were strikes. He ammassed 6 strikeouts, the 2nd of which made him the fastest in Major League history to reach 500 strikeouts in his career.
Darvish was able to induce 7 swings-and-misses, which was a testament to just how hard it is to key in on his pitches. He gave up 7 hits, but kept every one of them in the ballpark, and was able to prevent any runs from scoring. 50 of 89 pitches were fastballs.
When he gave up baserunners, he didn't appear to worry too much, instead opting to continue to throw strikes, whereas in the past, Darvish has sometimes tried to nibble around the strike zone a bit. When it was all said and done, Darvish only issued a single walk on the day, to Ryan Hanigan in the bottom of the 5th inning.
For awhile, it looked like it was the type of game we became used to last season, one in which Darvish was good enough to win, but had no offense to back him up. The Rangers managed only 3 hits on Alex Cobb, who was at the very least as good as Darvish on the day, but his pitch count was at 97 after 7.0 innings, so he didn't make it back out for the 8th.
It looked like the Rangers might not get much off of Joel Peralta either, but Shin-Soo Choo managed a hit, and then the improbable happened:
You're not usually going to see home run power from Andrus, but on the day, a line drive home run was what we got, and it was enough to put the Rangers on top for good.
We're only six games into the season, but it's encouraging nonetheless to see Elvis sporting a .333/.333/.500 line. More than just his bat, his defensive plays have been easing any concerns we might have had that his arm might be ailing after Spring Training.
All said, the win got the Rangers to .500 at 3-3, and while that's not ideally where you want to be, considering the injuries heading into the season, it's definitely better than the alternative. Colby Lewis could and Matt Harrison could soon be joining the rotation, and the prospect of having Yu Darvish take the ball every fifth day is comforting.
As a testament to why there should be no early-season panic, the Rangers head to Boston for a 3-game series against the World Series champion Red Sox, who sit at 2-4. You think there's not a level of panic going on in Boston? I'd bet there is after the Red Sox were swept at home by the Milwaukee Brewers, who aren't exactly expected to be one of the more competitive National League clubs this season.
Either the Rangers or Red Sox will go to sleep Wednesday evening being a sub-.500 team, and chances are, there will be a certain level of panic among whichever fan base it ends up affecting. Even if that turns out to be the Rangers, they'll head home for a 10-game homestand in which they'll see the Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, and Chicago White Sox. Those should all be winnable games, and no matter what happens in Boston, that slate will give the Rangers an opportunity to hopefully strengthen the W-L record while also seeing the starting rotation get stronger.
For a ball club still missing a starting catcher, starting 2nd baseman, and running out a rotation that has so far only seen two starts from pitchers we projected we'd be getting the starts from in February, I'll take .500. I'm concerned a bit about the rotation right now, and subsequently the bullpen that lost at least two pitchers to the current patchwork rotation, but I'm not ready to be anything but optimistic moving forward.
And yet, even despite that feeling of cautious optimism, I'd love nothing more than to see the Rangers absolutely take it to the Boston Red Sox before heading home. I'd love for Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, and Robbie Ross to outpitch John Lackey, Felix Doubront, and Jake Peavy. And I'd really love it if the friendly right field walls at Fenway end up swallowing a Prince Fielder home run or three.