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Behind spectacular Yu Darvish, Rangers wowing 'em on the mound

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

Darvish (USATSI)
Yu Darvish is outperforming the $60M deal and $51.7M posting bid the Rangers paid to obtain him. (USATSI)

Even when the Rangers drop an 11-spot hammer on the Angels … even when Lance Berkman drills a pitch over the right-field fence … even on a night when runs pour across the plate like barbecue sauce over a scrumptious rack of baby-back Angel ribs … the Rangers know where their Texas toast is buttered.

“Pitching, pitching, pitching,” Berkman says.

When the Rangers U-turned their franchise around a few years back, that's what did it.

As the Rangers plow ahead after what even they admit was a prickly offseason, that's what's continuing to do it.

Yu Darvish is spectacular right now, absolutely spectacular. Watch Yu, and you cannot get enough (unless you're hitting against him). Wednesday night in Anaheim, for the fourth time in five starts, he surrendered three or fewer hits and zero runs in a game.

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“He's got, like, 20 pitches he can throw for strikes,” marvels catcher A.J. Pierzynski. “Slow curveball, hard curveball. …”

In one inning, he lobbed a called third strike past Mike Trout -- a 61 mph curve -- and blazed a no-chance heater -- 95 mph -- by Josh Hamilton.

“… slow sinker, hard sinker. …” continues Pierzynski.

What Darvish is doing right now is beyond the $60 million contract and $51.7 million posting bid that the Rangers paid to obtain him. He's a force of nature.

“… fastball that moves in, fastball that tails away. …” says Pierzynski, still going.

By the time Darvish was finished gutting the Angels, he had run his scoreless streak to 18 consecutive innings, seized the American League lead with 49 strikeouts, lowered his ERA to 1.65 (third in the AL) and dropped his opponents' batting average to .147 (second in the AL).

“… a zoomer in which the bottom half of the baseball literally falls off, a butterfly ball in which the baseball actually sprouts wings and ever-so-gently flutters away from the bat,” Pierzynski continues.

OK, seriously, Pierzynski didn't really say that last thing. At least, I don't think he did. But he might have. He practically was glowing as he roll called everything that Darvish is doing this year, and he very well might have kept listing the right-hander's extra options and benefits throughout the night. I don't know. I didn't have enough ink in my five pens to list everything, and the Rangers had to bus to the airport for this weekend's series in Minnesota.

Among the other things that Pierzynski did say was “that's the best fastball he's had since I've been catching him.”

And what manager Ron Washington did say was that Darvish now is emerging from bullpen warmups knowing what's working on a given night, and using those pitches, rather than “throwing every single pitch he has.”

Noted. The Angels saw more fastballs from Darvish, 26, than usual on Wednesday.

He's making opponents look silly, and he's not alone. At 14-7 and tied with the Red Sox and Rockies for baseball's second-best record right now behind the Braves (15-6), the Rangers lead the AL with a 2.85 staff ERA.

What's striking about that is the Rangers lost their opening day starter, Matt Harrison, on April 6 to a herniated disk in his back. He will not return until after the All-Star break.

What's also striking about it is they're without starters Colby Lewis (forearm) until June, Martin Perez (forearm) until sometime in May and Neftali Feliz (Tommy John surgery) until at least late in the season. And they whiffed in signing free agent Zack Greinke over the winter despite employing a full-court press on the right-hander.

By the time that Feliz returns -- if he returns -- he'll likely work out of the bullpen again because there won't be enough season left to re-build his starter's stamina.

So what it comes down to is, the Rangers' rotation might have more arrivals and departures this season than your local bus stop.

Yet thanks to the early work of Derek Holland (1-1, 3.25), Alexi Ogando (2-1, 3.12), Nick Tepesch (1-1, 3.07) and Justin Grimm (1-0, 2.70) in addition to Superhero Darvish, the Rangers' rotation is second in the league with a 3.18 ERA.

And with a bullpen also ranked second (2.23), you get Berkman's point.

“We've got to help out with the younger guys,” Holland, 26, says of himself and Ogando in particular. “We should be leaders, show ‘em the way. At the same time, we've got to make sure we're prepared to get the job done.

“And after the year I had last year [12-7, 4.67], I've got to improve.”

Even with Hamilton gone, the Rangers can still drop a quick-strike hit on you offensively. They rank third in the league in runs scored.

But the reason they're the only team in baseball yet to lose consecutive games so far this season is found on the mound.

Some of it in unlikely forms, given the injuries.

And much of it in the excellent form of Darvish, who continues to show even the Rangers new things as he becomes more and more comfortable in his second season.

“I didn't know his stuff ran and moved the way it does until I saw him on TV,” Washington says. “From my angle [in the dugout], you see the bad swings. …”

More during this stretch than ever before.

“As a catcher, he makes it fun,” Pierzynski says.

“The guy doesn't throw anything straight unless he wants to,” Washington says.

Wednesday night, it was mostly fastballs.

“Next time out, he might throw 50 changeups and 50 splits,” Pierzynski says. “It just depends on what he's feeling that day.”

Which, right now, if you've got the Rangers coming up on your schedule, is about as scary a thought as there is in the game.

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