We asked Seattle-based sports blogger and A.L. West obsessive Brian Elsner to review Yu Darvish's Major League debut from a division foe's perspective. These are his thoughts.
1. Darvish Needs to Rely on All Those Other Pitches Everyone raves about the number of pitches Darvish can throw; I've heard that about 8 or 9 different variations of pitches are within Darvish's capabilities and powers, and in my close studies (on YouTube) it appeared that his stuff is lively and moves quite a bit. Yet Darvish decided that his flat, four-seam fastball would be enough. He struggled with his control early and then proceeded to just groove fastballs right down the middle and belt-high over the first couple innings.
After striking out Dustin Ackley on a curve, Darvish gave up a bloop single to Ichiro. (Side note: I assume all non-Seattle fans must think we all love Ichiro. We don't. He annoys us more than you can imagine). Darvish then grooved a fastball to Smoak for a single and, with a 1-2 count on Kyle Seager, he threw another fastball right down the middle. He didn't bury a slider or throw a nice change. He threw a fastball.
Maybe this is Mike Napoli's fault -- Lord knows he isn't a good catcher -- but it seemed odd. Once Darvish stopped throwing fastballs all the time, he looked better. Also, he kept striking out Michael Saunders, which tends to raise confidence levels, although though it shouldn't because Michael Saunders is at best an AAAA player.
2. Rangers Fans Cheer Really Randomly Clearly the fans were excited to watch their $100 million pitcher walk people all over the place, but the cheering was still very random. I realize the fans at the game can't really see the nuances of the strike zone, but there were loud jeers when pitches considerably off the plate were called balls, as if Darvish deserved some sort of Hey, I'm Japanese and Really Expensive exemption from the strike zone.
Same goes when Hector Noesi was pitching for the Mariners, but this time in opposite-land. Anytime the ump called a strike, the fans lost their minds. I thought maybe it was some weird reaction to ball girls or something, but then Josh Hamilton hit a foul ball to left field - nowhere near the field - and the fans started cheering like it was a home run. Can anyone explain why the Rangers fans are so excited yet seemingly all hammered?
Just when I thought it couldn't get worse, the fans gave Darvish a standing ovation for an obviously substandard pitching performance. Does a 5 2/3 inning, 8 hit, 5 run, 4 BB, 5 K performance deserve an ovation at all? You've been to the World Series two years in a row. Expect better.
3. Twitter Makes People So Stupid One of the downfalls of Twitter is that people tend to oversimplify, exaggerate, hyperbolize or exclaim because they're reduced to 140 characters and want more retweets. Enter Jason Parks of texasfarmreview.com and Baseball Prospectus, who last night actually Tweeted: "This inning [the first inning for Darvish] could be the best thing for Darvish's development. Failure and response to failure is the backbone of baseball".
Really? The best thing? It sort of feels like the best thing that could have happened to Darvish would have been dominating the Mariners for eight innings. Could his slow start have some positive byproducts? Maybe. But the best thing? Now you're just being weird.
4. Who Eats Pizza in Texas? In the third inning, the Seattle broadcast showed a kid wearing a Darvish shirt and eating some pizza. His mom looked proud of this. She should be ashamed. Who eats pizza at a baseball game in Texas? It's Texas. Go get some BBQ or a taco. Stupid kid.
5. Yu Darvish is Better than Hector Noesi You may be asking yourself: Who is Hector Noesi? Don't feel bad. Seattle fans will wish they could ask the same thing very soon.
The Mariners feature three starting pitchers in the minor leagues who are in the top 100 prospects by every publication in the country. Yet Hector Noesi took the mound in Arlington, where he was obliterated by Nelson Cruz and others. He's one of those pitchers who looks like he is trying so hard when he pitches that it almost cute. Then you remember it isn't Little League and you want to punch yourself in the face.
So be happy you don't have that guy on your team. Be happy you have Yu Darvish. He will probably be just fine. Meanwhile, I will have to live through Hector Noesi, Blake Beaven and Kevin Millwood for half a season until the team is 35 games out of first and they call up their prospects, assuming I don't kill myself first.