Japanese-Iranian pitcher is becoming a Texas-sized star with Major League Baseball's Rangers, writes Gregg Patton.
Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish delivers diversity
When Yu Darvish left Japan after the 2011 season, he was regarded as the best pitcher in his native country. One year and one month into his Major League Baseball career, he is on his way to conquering North America, as well.
Last week, the Texas Rangers right-hander dominated Los Angeles Angels over six innings, striking out 11, allowing only three singles and two walks, improving his record to 4-1. No one touched second base.
When he was done, he had lowered his earned-run average (ERA) to 1.65 and raised his MLB-leading strikeout total to 49 in 32.2 innings.
"When he's on, he's as tough as anyone I've ever seen," said his catcher, AJ Pierzynski.
Only his array of pitches is more diverse than his background. His father, Farsad, is a native of Iran who emigrated to the United States as a boy. He met his Japanese wife, Ikuyo, at tiny Eckerd College, in Florida.
After school, the couple moved to her homeland, where Yu was born. Their son grew to an exotic-in-Japan 6ft 5ins, and became a schoolboy baseball legend. After Darvish pitched seven seasons for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, he could not ignore the call, or the money, of American baseball. The Rangers paid US$50 million (Dh183.7m) for his rights, and signed Darvish to a six-year, $60m deal. It may be a bargain.
"I didn't know his fastball ran and moved the way it does until I saw it on TV," said Ron Washington, his manager. "He doesn't throw anything straight unless he wants to."
Darvish, 26, finished the 2012 season with respectable numbers - a 16-9 record and a 3.90 ERA. But that included a so-so first half.
"Since I have a year under my belt, I feel more relaxed," Darvish said through a translator after he beat the Angels. "I know how things are run. I feel much more comfortable."
Since mid-August of last year he has been spectacular, posting an 8-1 record and a 1.94 ERA, while averaging 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
"He comes out of the bullpen knowing what's working," Washington said of Darvish's pre-game routine. "He's not trying to throw everything he has."
That would be a considerable variety of fastballs, curves, change-ups and sliders.
"I've never been around a guy who has as many pitches that are quality pitches," said Pierzynski. "He has one of those sliders that stops and makes a right-hand turn."
Pierzynski quipped that against the Angels, he had to visit the mound to check with his pitcher after "I put down all 10 signs and he didn't want any of them."
That night Darvish relied on his fastball and slider, knowing that sometimes less is more. Even better? Having more if you need it.
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