Pitching deeper into games tops Darvish's wish list
Rangers ace works plan against Reds, lasting five innings and throwing 63 pitches
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Yu Darvish has a simple goal in mind for 2014.
"I want to throw more innings," Darvish said after pitching five efficient ones in an 8-2 victory over the Reds on Monday afternoon at Surprise Stadium.
In those five innings, Darvish demonstrated how he can achieve his goal this season. The original plan was for him to throw 65 pitches over four innings in his third outing of the Cactus League. But when he retired nine straight hitters to start his outing and got through four innings on just 48 pitches, Darvish was sent back out for the fifth.
When his day was finally finished, Darvish had thrown 63 pitches while allowing two runs on five hits over five innings. He struck out one and did not walk a batter. The 12.6 pitches per inning were much better than the 16.5 Darvish averaged last season, 12th highest among qualifying American League pitchers.
One inning more than expected per game will certainly help Darvish pitch more innings this season.
"My goal today was to throw a lot of fastballs -- two-seamers [sinkers] and cut fastballs, and let them hit the first pitch," Darvish said.
The Rangers don't want Darvish worrying about pitch counts. Manager Ron Washington has made that clear from the beginning of Spring Training. Washington simply wants Darvish to improve his fastball command and that will take care of everything else.
On Monday afternoon, Darvish reinforced what his manager has been saying: better fastball command leads to lower pitch counts.
"He was really economical today," Washington said. "He used his fastball and pitched off his fastball. I didn't see a whole lot of breaking balls. He was using his fastball to get ahead in the count and he got four outs on first pitches."
Darvish, who led the league with 277 strikeouts last season, only had one against the Reds. Darvish still has plenty of stuff to get strikeouts when the situation dictates it, but needs to recognize when it's time to make the opposing team put the ball in play and when to go for the big whiff.
"Between the two, I'll take the first-pitch outs and make them put the ball in play," Washington said. "But there will be times when he needs the strikeout and he still has the stuff to get it."
It's not the strikeouts that inflate pitch counts, but the many foul balls off a variety of offspeed pitches that come with it. That's what gets Darvish in trouble more than the strikeouts and that's what the Rangers are hoping will be reduced with well-placed fastballs early in the counts.
"I really don't know what my pitching style will be this year," Darvish said. "I know there has been a lot of talk about my pitch counts and I am also aware the team wants me to pitch a lot of innings. There will be some games like this and some games that aren't like this."
Darvish needed just 34 pitches over three innings in going through a Reds traveling lineup that did not include first baseman Joey Votto, second baseman Brandon Phillips and third baseman Todd Frazier. The Reds finally got a baserunner leading off the fourth when Billy Hamilton reached on a bunt single and he scored on a one-out double by Jay Bruce. Darvish then helped keep his pitch count down another way by picking Bruce off second base.
Darvish retired the first two hitters in the fifth before giving up a two-out single to Chris Nelson and a run-scoring double to Ramon Santiago. Henry Rodriguez followed with a single to center and Santiago was thrown out at the plate by Leonys Martin to end the inning. That was the last batter Darvish faced.
"I gave up some runs after the third inning, a lot of them coming on two-seam fastballs," Darvish said. "It was an experiment, something I was trying to do. I don't think I'll be doing that in the game this season. Here in Arizona, there is not that much movement on my two-seam so I'm not worried about it."
Darvish has three different fastballs he can use among his bewildering myriad of offspeed pitches. The two-seamer is the sinker and the cut fastball breaks straight inside to left-handed hitters. Then there is the classic straight fastball that averaged 93 miles per hour last season.
Those are the three pitches that he needs to command, locate and get quick outs with. Do that and everything else will be fine.
"The game is going to dictate it," Darvish said. "My forte is making adjustments for each game. There will be games when I throw a lot of pitches that they put in play and obviously games where I go for the strikeouts. If I can control that, I will have a good season."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.