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Darvish Delivers: Texas Rangers pitcher shines in 4-1 win over Blue Jays

04/30/2012 08:08 EDT | Updated 06/30/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish strolled into the visitors' clubhouse at the Rogers Centre, sat down on one of the leather couches and let out a big yawn.

The spotlight has never been brighter on the Japanese star but you wouldn't know it by his demeanour. He was as relaxed as could be before his start against the Blue Jays on Monday in a game televised across the United States on ESPN — a rarity for a Toronto home game.

Darvish was just as loose when he got on the mound, throwing seven solid innings of four-hit ball as the Rangers beat Toronto 4-1. He struck out nine and appeared comfortable throughout, consistently handcuffing batters with excellent movement and regular off-speed pitches.

The Rangers committed over US$107 million to land Darvish in the off-season. If the early results are any indication, Darvish — who is 4-0 with a sparkling 2.18 earned-run average — appears to be a great investment.

Texas submitted a record $51.7-million posting bid to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Pacific League for the right to negotiate a contract. Darvish later signed a six-year deal worth a guaranteed $56 million.

Reports indicated Toronto was among the teams in the running for his services at the time of the bidding process. It was something that was on his mind when he stepped on the mound.

"Honestly it was kind of an awkward feeling," Darvish said through a translator. "Because the rumour has it that this was a team that could have, that might have posted for me."

The Blue Jays have refused to confirm the club submitted an offer.

His appearance generated some buzz in Toronto with local media outlets going heavy with Darvish coverage. However, the stadium was less than half-full with only 21,945 fans on hand. The walkup crowd was likely lighter than usual due to the wet weather in the area.

A few Darvish jerseys were spotted throughout the stadium but the atmosphere didn't differ from a usual April weeknight crowd.

There were pockets of Japanese fans in attendance, but like the rest of the fans they were rather quiet. There was a significant Japanese media contingent in the jammed press box as reporters from the Kyodo News, Nikkan Sports and JiJi Press and other outlets took in the game.

It was hard not to be impressed by the lanky right-hander, who has a unique look with his mess of shaggy reddish-light brown hair puffing out from under his blue cap. Darvish has a steady, controlled motion that is precise and consistent.

He didn't waste any time showing his stuff.

Darvish struck out Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson before getting Jose Bautista to fly out for a 1-2-3 first inning.

"He's got a reputation," Rangers manager Ron Washington said before the game. "He's a quality pitcher, he's got quality stuff."

Darvish walked very slowly back to the dugout after each inning with a casual elegance. The right-hander seems to ooze confidence but without the cockiness.

Producer Sam Onoda, who does freelance work for Japan's NHK network, has covered Darvish throughout the spring.

"I think he's very even-keeled," Onoda said. "I've seen him joke around with his teammates in the clubhouse and he does seem to have a sense of humour. I think he's pretty calm in a sense — very quiet."

A few dozen fans gathered near the right-field foul pole before the game to try to catch a glimpse of the six-foot-five hurler as the Rangers tossed the ball around.

"I like his pitching because it's very powerful," said Toronto resident Tomo Tanaka, who's originally from Japan.

Darvish pitched for gold-medal-winning Japanese teams in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and the 2007 Asian Baseball Championship.

He's off to a great start with his new club. Darvish is the first starter in Rangers history to win four of his first five career games.

"Not taking anything away from his abilities, he was as good as advertised," said Jays manager John Farrell. "A well-pitched game on his part."

Darvish's lone hiccup was a solo shot by Edwin Encarnacion, the first home run given up by the pitcher this season.

"I've been impressed with his stuff," Washington said. "He can sink it, he can run it, he can hop it. He can slow it down, make it quick, cut it, split it. He can do everything with the baseball.

"It's just a matter of using that stuff at the proper time and that's what the catchers are here for. And so far he's been following their lead."

The two-time Pacific League MVP had a 93-38 record with a 1.99 ERA in 167 games over the past seven years.

Darvish allowed five earned runs over five-plus innings in his Texas debut, an 11-5 win over Seattle. His numbers have improved with each subsequent start.

The buzz will only keep building as the powerhouse Rangers — and Darvish — keep winning.

"It's been like this since he debuted over there in Japan," Onoda said of the Darvish hype. "It's gotten bigger and bigger. I think it's pretty much what he expected over here too."

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