ARLINGTON, Texas — New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi qualifies as a Yu Darvish connoisseur.
Girardi had already seen video of all three of Darvish’s major league starts before Tuesday night’s game against the Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. What Girardi saw in person confirmed his view of Darvish.
“In each of his starts, he’s gotten better and better,” Girardi said. “You’re seeing him starting to command the baseball better and better and better. That’s probably just relaxing in this situation.”
Darvish put a powerful Yankees lineup to sleep. The Yankees, whose lineup included eight starters with a combined 35 All-Star appearances, managed only seven hits in 81/3 innings against Darvish during a 2-0 loss to the Rangers.
“He’s obviously a great pitcher to put up zeroes against our lineup,” said Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who lost the seventh all-Japan pitching matchup in major league history.
The aura of Darvish also began to grow as he threw a “what was that?” pitch.
By definition, the mystery pitch was a “cut” fastball, which runs in on the hands of left-handed hitters. Darvish threw it harder than the usual “cutter,” keeping it at 90 mph. The Yankees, particularly the left-handed hitters, never caught up to the pitch.
“He had a, I’m not sure what to call it, pitch that’s like a split,” said Yankees catcher Russell Martin, a right-handed hitter. “He kept us off balance and really didn’t make any mistakes.”
Girardi said the curveball, which dipped to as low as 69 mph, was Darvish’s best pitch off the fastball. The slider and mystery “cutter’ were so good that Darvish “pitched backward,” Martin said, by using them early in the count.
Darvish stymied ex-Rangers sluggers: Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Rodriguez did not get the ball out of the infield in four at-bats and grounded into a bases-loaded double play. Teixeira was hitless in four at-bats.
“He was everything they said he was,” Teixeira said.
The Yankees had six at-bats with runners in scoring position in the third and fourth innings. They got one hit: Derek Jeter’s single that loaded the bases with none out in the third. As has been his custom, Darvish made his best pitches under self-induced pressure.
He escaped the third by getting a called strikeout on Curtis Granderson, who took a “back-door” slider that caught the outside corner. Rodriguez, a two-time batting champion, grounded into a double play. Rodriguez, the game’s highest-paid player by the metric of average annual value, is hitting .176 for 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“That doesn’t happen,” Girardi said of his club failing to score with the bases loaded and none out.
Robinson Cano started the fourth with a double. The next three hitters did not get the ball out of the infield.
Teixeira struck out swinging on three straight “cut” fastballs that got in on his hands. After getting Nick Swisher to chase a slider for a strikeout, Darvish went back to the “cutter” against ancient Raul Ibanez, who grounded out.
The telling point was that all three were left-handed hitters. In Darvish’s first two starts, left-handed hitters were 14-for-38 against him. But in consecutive starts against Detroit and the Yankees, Darvish has held left-handed hitters to a 5-for-31 performance.
“He’s got a number of pitches he can go to,” Girardi said. “When a pitcher has that, it’s tough. That’s the key to pitching. He had different ways of getting our guys out the second and third times through.”
Girardi has been here before. He was a catcher with the Yankees when they brought over a previous Japanese sensation: right-hander Hideki Irabu. Dealing with the massive expectations became a heavy load for Irabu, he said.
“The expectations of every time he goes out, throwing a shutout, that’s not easy,” Girardi said. “There’s probably a lot of pressure in his country, too.”