The eyes of the baseball world will be firmly focused on Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish when the Japanese ace makes his highly anticipated major-league debut.
“I really want to put up a good fight,” Darvish said of his new environment just prior to leaving the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.
Darvish is slated to pitch the fourth game of the season for the Rangers, April 9 against compatriot Ichiro and the Seattle Mariners.
The 25-year-old Darvish has a lot of weapons in his arsenal, including a fastball that regularly tops out at over 150 kph and several varieties of breaking balls.
The hard-throwing right-hander is the only man in Japanese baseball history to boast a winning percentage of around 70 percent after throwing at least 1,000 total innings. He is only the second person since the two-league system was implemented in 1950 to have a career earned run average under 2.00.
How all this will translate to the major leagues remains to be seen, but Darvish is widely expected to outperform Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who won 18 games for Boston in 2008.
The Rangers shelled out a total of $111.7 million (about 9.3 billion yen), including transfer fees and annual salary, to obtain Darvish. The total surpasses what the Red Sox paid to get Matsuzaka. Dubbed the “100 million dollar pitcher,” Darvish has been drawing plenty of attention right through spring training. Exhibition games he pitched in were broadcast live in both Japan and the United States, and Darvish’s picture has been plastered all over the websites of U.S. media outlets.
During a news conference in January to announce his departure from the Fighters, Darvish said, “I hate that Japanese baseball gets looked down upon.” To improve the image of Japanese players, Darvish made it his goal to become the best pitcher in the best baseball league in the world.
He has trained hard to live up to the standard he has set for himself, and that’s what gives him his confidence. Darvish beefed up his 196-centimeter, 97.5-kilogram frame to endure the scorching sun in Texas, the long-distance travel, and pitching on four days’ rest.
“My weight is basically the same, but my (interior) muscles are more finely tuned,” Darvish says. “I can throw better than last season.”
But he still has some challenges to overcome. He has yet to adjust to MLB pitcher’s mounds, which are firmer, and the baseballs, which are slicker, than those in Japan. This has been throwing off his control somewhat. In the four exhibition games he pitched in, he threw 265 pitches to get through 15 innings. He also gave up eight walks and hit two batters with pitches. Left-handed batters hit .379 against him this spring, which is also a concern.
Still, Darvish maintains his high level of confidence.
“I’m adjusting right now,” he says. “I lack consistency, but I don’t need to be perfect right now.”
With the regular season now under way, baseball fans across the globe are anxious to see how Darvish’s eye-popping fastballs and diverse breaking balls will play out in Major League Baseball. We should find out April 9.
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