TORONTO (Reuters) - With his 6ft-5in frame sprawled across a small couch in the Texas Rangers clubhouse like it was his living room, Yu Darvish had the relaxed look of someone quite at home in his new major league surroundings.
Fingering a baseball one second, tapping on a mobile phone the next, the Japanese ace is no nervous newcomer in the locker room or on the mound as he ran his rookie record to 4-0 with a 4-1 dissection of the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday.
While Darvish still struggles with his English and needs an interpreter to conduct post-game interviews, after just one month, the lanky righthander already has a strong grasp of what it takes to survive in the major leagues.
Described as the best pitching prospect to ever come out of Japan, the Texas Rangers paid handsomely ($111 million) for that potential and Darvish is quickly proving it was money well spent.
After a pretty ordinary start to his major league career in terms of control, Darvish has quickly found his range and allowed just four runs in his last 31 innings.
“Just getting used to the atmosphere, the atmosphere of being in the major leagues,” Darvish told reporters, when asked about adjusting to life in Major League Baseball.
”I think it is just the comfort, doing it repeatedly has made me feel a bit better each time.
“I‘m very aware that all these hitters, the teams that are facing me they are seeing me for the first time so I am not thinking about how I did this month, right now all I‘m thinking about is preparing well for my next start.”
The copper coiffed pitcher has had the luxury of being supported by baseball’s best offensive unit and the Texas bats were booming against the Jays, Mitch Moreland and Craig Gentry slamming back-to-back home runs in the seventh to break open a 2-1 contest and provide Darvish with a bit of cushion.
Rangers manager Ron Washington says, Darvish comes as advertised, a pitcher of superb quality armed with a dazzling repertoire of pitches but one that still has plenty to learn in a league that makes you pay for every mistake. Even little ones.
“There are different types of hitters you face over here than you face in Japan,” Washington explained. “You make mistakes here they leave the ball park, you make some mistakes in Japan and they may end up being singles.”
Darvish’s major league education continued on Monday and it included the first big mistake of his rookie campaign, serving up his first home run to Edwin Encarnacion in the fourth inning.
But that was the only stain on an otherwise polished performance as Darvish continued on an upward curve.
Arriving in Toronto off his best outing of the season, a 10 strikeout effort in the Rangers’ 2-0 shutout of the New York Yankees on Sunday, the 25-year-old sensation followed up with seven clinical innings of work against the Jays.
Darvish settled quickly and gave up the lone run on four hits while recording nine more strikeouts.
”He’s can overpower you, he can finesse you,“ Washington added. ”He can sink it, he can run it, he can hop it. He can slow it down, he can make it quick, he can cut it, he can split it.
“He can do it all with the baseball, it just a matter of using that stuff at the proper time.”
For Toronto baseball fans, Monday’s game provided a glimpse of what might have been with the Blue Jays reportedly among the teams entering the bidding for Darvish’s services when he was put up for auction by the Nippon Ham Fighters.
After the game, Darvish said playing in Toronto made him feel a bit awkward, pitching against a team that had courted his services and left Blue Jays manager John Farrell singing the praises of a pitcher he had coveted.
”Just an outstanding pitched game by Darvish,“ Farrell said. ”We had a couple of opportunities but it seemed like he could get a strikeout when needed to shut an inning off.
“He was as good as advertised.”
Editing by John O'Brien