The excellence of Yu Darvish is not something many fans - or baseball players for that matter - in Washington, D.C. have been able to appreciate in his two-plus seasons in the majors.
Darvish plays in the American League in a division out west where many of the games don't even start until after 10 p.m. on the east coast. Though he was an All-Star last season, he did not appear in the game due to injury.
For those of us who live in Washington, watching Darvish go to work is something that requires an extra effort. You have to seek it out and often times stay up late.
Sunday, however, provided the rare opportunity to see the Rangers' ace take the mound in person, in an interleague series with the Nationals. He made his 10th start of the season in D.C. against the Nats and, man, did he not disappoint.
Darvish threw eight scoreless innings, putting on a surgical display using six different types of pitches. He rifled high-90s fastballs, dropped in low-90s sinkers, and even snapped a 59 mile per hour curveball in for strike three against Adam LaRoche.
Darvish has an impressive repertoire, and on Sunday it was on full display.
"He just throws your timing off. He has that long, dramatic leg kick and he pitches to both sides of the plate," Denard Span - who was the only member of the Nats' starting lineup not to strike out against Darvish - said.
"It’s tough as a hitter when you’ve got to worry about 94 and you got to also sit back on 60 to 65 miles an hour. That’s a 30 miles per hour difference and for hitters it’s all about timing and anytime a pitcher can disrupt your timing, they got you where they want you as far as keeping you off balance."
Darvish finished with 12 strikeouts in eight innings pitched, having scattered five hits and two walks. He now holds a 2.08 ERA on the year through 10 outings, second-best in the American League.
LaRoche recorded a single and a walk, which was about as well as any Nats player did against Darvish in the Nationals' 2-0 loss. Span also reached base with two hits.
"We just caught a really good pitcher on a day when he had really good stuff," LaRoche said.
"There’s a reason he’s put up the numbers he has. A big part of it is having those pitches and also location and being able to run it up there to 96 when he wants to. He was good. I know we chased some pitches, but overall he wasn’t leaving anything over the middle of the plate. He was painting the corners. We’re struggling to put the ball in play on some of these pitches. There’s times when you’ve got to tip your hat and I think today was one of them."
LaRoche talked about the 59 mile per hour curveball after the game. It caught him looking for a strikeout to begin the bottom of the fourth inning.
"It was interesting," he said. "I thought he’d lost it. I thought it was going off the backstop when he released it. I just thought it slipped. And then it starts dropping in and I froze. I was impressed with that one."
Darvish stopped the bleeding in what was otherwise a disastrous series for the Rangers. They entered Sunday having been outscored 19-4 in the first two games and went home with a series loss. They needed a stopper and, despite a seven-inning, one-run performance by his counterpart, Tanner Roark, Darvish delivered.
The Nationals now have Monday off before the Phillies come to town. They had struggled on offense throughout May before exploding for their final two games of the month. They will enter their next series hoping Darvish's gem was just a minor setback in what is otherwise a resurgence for their lineup.
"I don’t think that will affect us," LaRoche said. "I think, again, just chalk this up to running into a really good pitcher, come back Tuesday and forget about it."