Yu Darvish Debut: Full Analysis and Grades of Rangers Ace's First Spring Start

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Yu Darvish Debut: Full Analysis and Grades of Rangers Ace's First Spring Start
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Yu Darvish, the Texas Rangers' much ballyhooed Japanese pitching import, made his debut in Peoria, Arizona, on Wednesday afternoon against the San Diego Padres.

The hype was huge, and Darvish did not disappoint.  

Over two innings, Darvish threw 36 pitches, 26 of which were strikes.  Darvish's repertoire included eight distinct pitches, including two different fastballs as well as two types of curveballs.  

Darvish threw a four-seam fastball that maxed out at 95 MPH. A 12-to-6 curveball that registered at 66 MPH, as well as a much harder "slurve" type of curveball that hit 80 MPH. His two-seam fastball hovered in the low 90s and his splitter sat at 88 MPH. 

Darvish faced a total of eight batters—four in the first, and four in the second inning—and struck out three, surrendered just two hits, both of which were to left-handed hitters.  

Against Darvish, only one ball was struck soundly with any carry.  Will Venable nailed a 2-2 fastball leading off the second inning into the ridiculously high "batter's eye" in deep right-center field.  

Other than Venable's towering double, the majority of the batters Darvish faced looked anywhere from uncomfortable to downright overmatched.

Here's a breakdown of how each batter fared, pitch-by-pitch:

First Inning

First Batter—Cameron Maybin (RH)  

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Pitch sequence: Fastball (FB), Slider (SL), FB, FB (95MPH*), Splitter (SPL), (SL) 

Outcome: Maybin struck out looking.  

Grade: A+

Note: The slider that Darvish unleashed on Maybin with a 2-2 count was absolutely filthy.  On a scout's grading scale of 20-80, it is an easy 70.  And to be honest, if a professional scout argued up to an 80 on the that pitch, it's not like anyone would start calling for a straitjacket. Darvish's slider is an absolute wipeout pitch.

Second Batter—Orlando Hudson (LH)

Pitch Sequence: FB, Changeup (CH), FB, CH, FB

Outcome: A fastball got a bit too much of the plate on a 1-2 count, and Hudson put a nice swing on it and used his speed to turn it into a double.  

Grade: B-

Note: Hudson, or "O-Dog" is a professional hitter, so it's no surprise that he was the first batter to record a hit off of Darvish.  This is one of the most predictable sequences that Darvish threw.  He has the command and late boring-action on his changeup to go FB-CH with great success.    

Third Batter—Jesus Guzman (RH)

Excellent video in Japanese.

Pitch Sequence: SL, FB (95MPH*), SL

Outcome: Flyout. Guzman made solid contact, but it was essentially: "Good morning, good afternoon, and goodnight."   

Grade: A

Note:  Guzman was clearly overmatched.  Once again, Darvish turned to his plus-plus slider as his out-pitch.

Fourth Batter—Carlos Quentin (RH)

Pitch Sequence: FB, FB, SL, FB, CB

Outcome: Strikeout swinging.

Notes: Carlos Quentin looked absolutely clueless when Darvish dropped in his "slurvey" curve on a 2-2 count. Essentially, Darvish made a major league All-Star look like an amateur that decided he was going to swing before the pitch was even delivered.  

Grade: A+

Second Inning

First Batter—Will Venable (LH)

Pitch Sequence: CB, CH, SPL, SPL, FB

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
No one talks about this, but when Yu pitches a blue magnetic forcefield actually emanates from his very being.

Outcome: Double off of the 40-foot "batter's eye" in right centerfield.

Note: Easily the hardest hit ball.  On 2-2, Darvish threw a fastball that had good movement but got too much of the plate.  Venable put a good swing on it, and no matter what Darvish says, he got all of that pitch.  It would have been a homer in just about every big league park.

 

Grade: B- (Might be a little harsh, but compared to the other batters faced, this was the one "difficult" at-bat for Yu. 

Second Batter—Mark Kotsay (LH)

Pitch Sequence: FB, Cutter (CT)

Outcome: Groundout.

Grade: A+

Note: The cutter he threw on 0-1 was the first Darvish unleashed on the day.  It came in just south of 90MPH, and induced a ground-ball out. Darvish also gave us the first glimpse of his overall athleticism, as he raced off of the mound to cover on the first base feed.

Third Batter—James Darnell (RH)

Pitch Sequence: FB, SL, FB, CB, FB

Outcome: Fielder's choice.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Grade: A+

Note: Yu was able to show off his athletic ability once again, as he used every inch of his 6'5" frame to leap up and grab a hard-hit grounder right up the middle. Astutely, Darvish threw to home to nail what would have been the go-ahead run in the form of speedy Will Venable.

Fourth Batter—John Baker (LH)

Pitch Sequence: FB, CT, CB, FB, SPL

Outcome: Strikeout swinging.

Grade: A+

Note: Baker was perhaps the most overmatched batter that Darvish faced.  He was down 0-2 in a flash, and swung feebly at yet another plus offering: A nasty split-fingered fastball.

Overall Analysis and Grade for Yu Darvish 

Is the sample size small? Absolutely.  However, Darvish displays the polish of a seasoned veteran, at the tender age of 25.  He also has shown that four of his eight pitches are in the plus, to plus-plus range. 

His splitter absolutely falls off the table and is thrown from the exact same slot as his fastball. Actually, due to his clean mechanics, virtually all of his pitches come from the exact same slot.  His slower curveball is more of a "show pitch" that he uses to change the eye-level of the batter and to set up his fastball.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Darvish's slider is absolutely filthy and might be one of the best in the big leagues—right now. Of special note is that Darvish threw every single pitch from the stretch position.  His fastest pitch was registered at 95 MPH, which is well above major league average.  However, once he incorporates a windup, look for his heater to add a notch or two in velocity.  

On two plays in the second inning, Darvish showed the world that he is not just a pitcher; he's a complete athlete and the type of player that can help his team defensively by being a "fifth" infielder.

In short, if Yu Darvish can stay healthy, he is the real deal, and has a chance to be a very, very, special talent. He could become the ace of the Texas Rangers staff by midseason (or sooner) and continue in that role for years to come.

Overall Grade: A  

           

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