SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers manager Ron Washington was shaking his head after he finished watching Yu Darvish throw live batting practice on Monday morning. "He's got some serious stuff," Washington said as he walked from one practice field to another. "He can run his fastball inside, he can run it outside. He can sink it to the left and sink it to the right. He can hang you up with his breaking ball ... he's got the splitter. He can bring heat." Washington, like everybody else, still isn't sure how many different kinds of pitches Darvish throws.
"He can take his fastball, sink it, throw it inside and make you chase it high," Washington explained. "That's three pitches just right there." Darvish, who was in the first group of pitchers and threw 34 pitches in his session, was among those Washington wanted to see up close on Monday. Another was Neftali Feliz. Feliz was in the second of four pitchers throwing on four different fields. He was facing the formidable group of David Murphy, Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. The Rangers don't know how many pitches Darvish has in his arsenal. The Rangers are hoping Feliz will have at least three. The Rangers know he can throw his fastball but want Feliz to develop his breaking ball and changeup to give him the three-pitch mix needed to be an effective starter.
That's what Washington was looking for as he settled in behind the batting cage. Feliz threw approximately 30 pitches and the best was a changeup low and away that Hamilton chased and missed. Feliz also threw a changeup inside to Murphy, who golfed it over the right-field fence. "He threw some good changeups ... he's trying to get a feel for it," Washington said afterwards. "He definitely has to work on it. I thought he did a good job and I thought the hitters did a good job staying in there against him." Maybe Feliz can borrow a couple of pitches from Darvish, if he has extras. "I feel confident I can throw the changeup," Feliz said. "I've been working hard on it and it will help me this year. It's a great feeling to do that when you're facing a good hitter like Hamilton. That's the feel [with the pitch] that I want this year." Both Darvish and Feliz have more batting practice to throw on Wednesday. They will also pitch in the intrasquad game on Friday and then pitch back-to-back in the Cactus League next week. Darvish will start on March 7 against the Padres and Feliz will pitch March 8 against the White Sox. It is still early in camp but Washington likes what he sees from both pitchers, especially Feliz. Washington said he sees a pitcher who came to camp determined to be a starter. "He's focused and he's confident," Washington said. "He's getting the opportunity to use all his pitches in batting practice and he's doing it. He has been a leader in his group out there. So far, he seems very happy to be a starter. To me, that is 50 percent of it. The other 50 percent is going out and getting it done. "He's determined to do well. Let's let it play out. He's going to win some games for us, no doubt about it." Feliz had a tougher group to face than Darvish. While Feliz had to face the starting outfield from the club's World Series team, Darvish was working against Minor Leaguers here in early camp. They were overmatched and nobody hit one out of the park against him. "It would have been great to do that," said Mike Bianucci, who hit 30 home runs at Double-A Frisco last season and was one of five hitters to face Darvish on Monday. "But a guy with that much movement, you just want to put wood on the ball." There wasn't much solid wood put on anything while Darvish was out there. "The ball felt good coming out of my hand," Darvish said. "The way my body felt, it was very good." This was Darvish's third batting practice session and he has been trying to adjust to the L-shaped screen placed in front of the mound to protect him from line drives. They don't use those L-screens in Japan, but they helped protect Feliz from two vicious line drives in his throwing session. Darvish hasn't had anything like that hit at him yet. "The first two times I had the screen, I felt a little uncomfortable," Darvish said. "Today, I made an adjustment [moving the screen slightly], I got better view and I felt more comfortable. Today, I was not working on my pitches. I was more concerned how my body felt and how it was working. I was very satisfied." So was Masataka Nashida. He was Darvish's manager over the past four seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters and now works for Japanese television. He was in camp to watch Darvish throw on Monday. "Throwing in the bullpen was not so good," Nashida said. "But live batting practice, throwing to hitters, he had more stuff than in the bullpen session." Live batting practice is going well for two pitchers who have never started a game in the Major Leagues. The real thing is still to come but they both looked real on Monday.
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.