Big league transition begins for Darvish

Big league transition begins for Darvish

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish threw 19 pitches on Thursday that were literally seen, heard and read about around the world.

Darvish, with somewhere between 100-125 members of the media watching every pitch, threw five minutes of live batting practice during the Rangers' first workout for pitchers and catchers. Mike Napoli was his catcher, Minor League infielders Ryan Strausborger and Jurickson Profar were the two hitters and Triple-A pitching coach Terry Clark watched from behind the mound.

After the session was over, all involved were asked to assess the outing.

"He had good command of all of his pitches ... sinker, four-seam fastball, slider and cutter," said Profar, a 19-year-old middle infielder who played at Class A Hickory last year.

"He threw the ball on both sides of the plate with a nice easy motion," Clark said.

"Just another BP," Napoli said. "He had good command and threw all of his pitches. He was only going 80 percent. It was not like game speed but the ball was coming out of his hand pretty good."

Strausborger was asked if he was worried about hitting a line drive back to the mound right at the Rangers' prized offseason acquisition.

"His ball was moving too much for me to worry about hitting him in the head with a line drive," Strausborger said.

The session is now history. Despite the massive attention, the outing was just the first step for Darvish in getting ready for the regular season. That's why he is in Arizona and that's why the Rangers are here: to prepare their pitching staff and their team to get ready to compete in the American League during the regular season.

The Rangers have 32 pitchers they are trying to get ready for a season.

"This is not a Yu Darvish camp," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He is a part of the camp. He is one of 32 pitchers. That's the way he wants it. He wants to fit in."

Darvish was the center of attention during the club's first workout, but he did not let that faze him. He is used to the rock star treatment and was still able to get his work done even if Derek Holland pretended to be a television interviewer during the conditioning drills.

"I'm not here to play around," Darvish said through an interpreter during his first Arizona press conference. "I'm here to play baseball. That's what I do."

He will throw batting practice every other day leading up to March 2. That's when he will pitch against his teammates in the second of two intrasquad games. After that, it will be the Cactus League. The Rangers haven't announced when his first outing will be but Darvish will likely make six starts before the regular season and build up to about 105-110 pitches before it's over.

"The key for him will be not to do too much but just to play baseball," pitcher Colby Lewis said. "That's what he's done for the last seven years in Japan. He just needs to go out, have fun and not put too much pressure on himself. He has been great over there and I don't expect any less here. I don't see him doing anything different: take the ball 30-35 times and have fun doing it."

Like all pitchers, Darvish has a checklist of things to work on this spring.

"I just want to have good preparation to be ready, do my work and be careful health-wise, not to get hurt," Darvish said. "I feel strong. I feel like I will be able to pitch well. There is no certain plan to bring it to a [high] level. I'll make my starts in Spring Training and hopefully I'll be ready for Opening Day."

Darvish has to get used to an American baseball. The Japanese baseball is a touch smaller and not as slick as the one used in the Major Leagues. He needs to refine all his pitches. Darvish throws almost every pitch possible and doesn't even know himself exactly how many.

"It's not that I throw hard," Darvish said. "I have a lot of different pitches and I adjust each game. Each game I may have a different pitch that will be my out pitch."

He also has to adapt to the increased workload of a Major League pitcher and the different method of training. In Japan, the emphasis is throwing as much as possible between starts. In the Major Leagues, pitchers limit the amount of throwing between starts while emphasizing quality over quantity.

Darvish said he is looking forward to learning the American way of training. He also said that he has built himself up physically over the past two years to prepare himself for the rigors of a Major League season.

"When I was younger, I was very thin," Darvish said. "But I worked hard at my training and was able to put on good strength. I think I've built up my body to be the equal of these guys. Skill-wise, we'll see. But physically, I match up to these guys."

Thursday's throwing session allowed him to do one important thing. He got to throw to Napoli for the first time. Darvish also spoke with catcher Yorvit Torrealba and will throw to him as much as possible this spring.

"I'm going to sit down with him just like I would with every other pitcher," Napoli said. "I told him anything he wants me to do, I'll do it. I go through that with every other pitcher. It's not any different with him. Today was like last year when I caught Derek for the first time."

There just weren't as many cameras around.

"A little postseason pandemonium in Spring Training," Maddux said.

Spring Training is under way and now Darvish must focus on preparing for a Major League season. He is not playing around.

"Wearing that uniform makes me feel a part of the team," Darvish said. "Now, I have a responsibility to take care of."

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.