9:35 PM CDT, April 8, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas — On the other side of the globe, a nation will turn to video screens big and small at about 7:10 Monday night — or, 14 time zones away, 9:10 a.m. Tuesday in Tokyo.
Yu Darvish, almost certainly the best pitcher ever in Japan, will make his major league debut for the Rangers. The third batter he faces will be the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki, one of the two greatest hitters ever from Japan.
You can be sure the great Sadaharu Oh, the other man in that discussion, will wake up in time for Darvish's first pitch. This will be a matchup for the ages in the one country where baseball is clearly the most popular sport.
And this game can't come and go fast enough for Jon Daniels, the general manager who invested $107.7 million in the 25-year-old ace of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
He didn't do it because he wanted some attention. The Rangers had plenty of that after back-to-back American League pennants.
Daniels wants a team that can win the World Series, and he figures Darvish gives him a better chance than he would have had if he re-signed lefty C.J. Wilson, who was the Rangers' No. 1 starter last October, moving into the role vacated when short-timer Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies.
It's a good gamble. A real good gamble.
Darvish is the real deal.
ESPN's Keith Law, a guy who sometimes seems to hate everything, loves, loves, loves him some Yu Darvish. He figures that the 6-foot-5 ace with the high-90s velocity, the swing-and-miss slider and more pitches than Betty White will lead the Rangers to a 93-win season that keeps them ahead of Albert Pujols' Angels. He's got Darvish down for the AL Rookie of the Year and — sorry, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia — the Cy Young Award.
"The one concern I'd have on Darvish is workload — he's been worked hard in Japan, and very few (Nippon Professional Baseball) refugees have held their value for more than two seasons after crossing to MLB,'' Law writes. "But Darvish's ace potential makes him worth the risk, even at a cost of nearly $20 million per year when you factor in the posting fee."
After watching Darvish in spring training, it's easy to see why the Rangers wanted him so badly. He has poise and confidence that belies his standing as a newcomer.
Darvish has the ability to dominate. He makes hitters look bad with his fastball and an arsenal of five to seven secondary pitches, including a split-finger fastball that should be outlawed, and he is freakishly athletic. Don't be surprised if he wins a Gold Glove this year, especially with Mark Buehrle in the National League.
Darvish's spring-training stats were impressive, especially considering he says his delivery still doesn't feel 100 percent. He pitched 15 innings in Cactus League games, striking out 21. He struggled to hit spots at times, walking eight, but finished strong.
Daniels wasn't concerned when Darvish had back-to-back poor outings. He could see he was going through his paces like a 10-year veteran, knowing things would come together in time for April. Pitching coach Mike Maddux says Darvish "got better each time out."
The White Sox were initially expected to face Darvish in the final game of the season-opening series. But for reasons manager Ron Washington explained in a variety of ways, all confusing, it was decided he would get the fourth game of the season, against Ichiro and the Mariners.
Darvish, who was first scouted by the Rangers' Jim Colborn in 2006, isn't likely to hyperventilate when Ichiro steps into the batter's box.
"I'll be looking forward to it and enjoy facing him," Darvish said. "But ... I can't really talk about enjoyment. I have to think about ways to get him out."
Darvish's debut figures to be a good show, but nothing more. The starts that will define his season will come many months from now, more than likely in October, this time with as many people watching in the United States as in his homeland.
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