GOODYEAR, AZ: Yu Darvish #11 of the Texas Rangers gets a visit from pitching coach Dave Maddux (L) and catcher Yorvit Torrealba #8 during the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Cleveland Indians in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Tuesday afternoon after Yu Darvish's outing, a lot of people talked about the second spring-training start in his nascent Major League Baseball career. Yu Darvish talked. Yu Darvish's interpreter talked. Yu Darvish's manager. Yu Darvish's bullpen coach talked. But it fell to Yu Darvish's catcher to say nearly everything worth saying ...
He was a little wild with his fastball.
He's human. Believe it or not, he's human.
Thank you, Yorvit Torrealba. All the rest of the talk was just so many colored bubbles, floating slowly away in the destitute Arizona sky.
Tuesday afternoon, Darvish couldn't control his fastball in the bullpen before his start against the Cleveland Indians. And he never really did harness his four-seam fastball. He threw as hard as always, but he just couldn't throw that pitch where he wanted. His slider, his splitter, his slow curveball ... according to bullpen coach Andy Hawkins, all those other pitches "were as sharp as they could be."
His four-seam fastball, though, was dull, and so he walked the first two Indians he faced, both on five pitches. Both were thrown out trying to steal by Torrealba, and Darvish escaped the inning by striking out Shin-Soo Choo on a slider. He cruised through the second with little trouble and a couple more strikeouts. The third inning didn't go so well. First Jack Hannahan doubled, and then Darvish walked Tofu Lou Marson on four pitches and Michael Brantley on five.
After a run-scoring single, Darvish did get a double play and a long fly ball to end the inning. That was enough, though. His day was through, and it stood in stark contrast to his spring debut.
Darvish has so many pitches that he probably could have junked his four-seam fastball completely, and done perfectly well with his other five or six offerings. But this is spring training, and while Darvish (through his interpreter) would later say he didn't have "a specific plan" for his first two outings -- including this one -- you have to think that establishing his fastest fastball was somewhere in the back of his mind, considering he is fundamentally a 25-year-old power pitcher.
This time it just didn't work out, over the course of three innings and 62 pitches. Give him two or three more innings and another 50 pitches, and everything might have turned out just fine. Or might not have. He's human.
He's also, in case you haven't heard, one of the most interesting baseball players on this side of the Pacific. Yes, he throws all those pitches. At least until he hits a little rough patch and someone tells him to whittle his repertoire down to just four or five offerings instead of six or seven. In both of his spring-training starts, he's pitched exclusively from the stretch ... and oddly enough, nobody seems to know when he's going to stop doing that.
Darvish's post-outing press conference was attended by something like 60 writers and photographers, most of them Japanese. Unlike his last post-outing press conference, which actually resulted in a small controversy, this time Darvish said very little of interest. Or perhaps he said something of interest, and his translator translated the interestingness out of it.
There was one thing, though ... One reporter asked Darvish if he's been surprised by anything since joining the Texas Rangers this winter. His response, as translated (and hazily recalled by me):
One thing I noticed was how much our players practice. That was a surprise to me.
American players, of course, have a reputation for hardly practicing at all. An infielder makes a mistake, and you can count on some old-timer in the press box lamenting the death of pre-game infield practice and, worse, the fundamentals. Meanwhile, Japanese players are famous for their dawn-to-dusk practice sessions. With, I suspect, good reason.
But please don't let anyone fool you. American and National Leaguers work plenty hard at their jobs. Yes, they're the biggest and fastest and strongest baseball players you're going to find on the earth. But only someone who's not paying attention would question the work ethic of Major League Baseball's players, as a group. Yes, they are blessed with great physical abilities. That should go without saying. But being born with good baseball genes isn't nearly enough for most of them. They practice, and they practice, and they practice some more. If they didn't, most of them, they wouldn't be where they are.