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Yu takes first step toward building on '12 success

Rangers right-hander has smooth 'pen session with new batterymate Pierzynski

Yu takes first step toward building on '12 success play video for Yu takes first step toward building on '12 success

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Catcher A.J. Pierzynski made great strides in developing a relationship with pitcher Yu Darvish during the Rangers' first official workout on Wednesday.

"We talked about where he's going to eat tonight," Pierzynski said. "McDonald's. He's taking me to McDonald's."

They can talk about Royce Bolinger over a couple of Big Macs. Drafted by the Rangers in the sixth round of the First-Year Player Draft last season, he is a Minor League outfielder who hit just one home run in 266 at-bats at Class A Spokane last year. Bolinger was one of three Minor League hitters who faced Darvish during his first batting-practice session on Wednesday.

Bolinger smacked a hanging curve ball over the left-field fence halfway through the session.

"One thing that surprised me was that I thought I was going to throw a bullpen and it was a live BP," Darvish said. "That caught me off-guard."

Other than Bolinger's blast, Darvish's first bullpen session seemed to go smoothly.

"The ball was coming out of his hand good and he was throwing strikes," Pierzynski said. "He said he felt good. It's tough on the first day to determine what a guy has, because it is just the first day."

This was the first step in what the Rangers are expecting will be a big year for Darvish. His first season is out of the way, he has made all the necessary adjustments to the United States and he finished strong in 2012. He was 5-1 with a 2.35 ERA in his last eight starts before losing to the Orioles in the American League Wild Card playoff game.

The Rangers are expecting Darvish to carry his success over into 2013.

"I think he found himself in those last starts of the season," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He began to understand what he can do and how to do it. He had a lot of adjustments to make and he did it. His confidence is where it should be. Now he can go through a normal Spring Training and move forward.

"He knows Texas, and we know Yu. He knows how we go about our business, and we know how he goes about his business. If he needs anything, he knows to speak up."

Darvish's first season overall was good, judging simply by the numbers. He finished 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 191 innings. Opponents hit .220 off him and his command improved as the season progressed. He walked 4.64 batters per nine innings before the All-Star break and cut that down to 2.35 in his final eight starts.

That's another sign that the season could be even better for Darvish. But he also has to account for the possibility that AL hitters will be far more familiar to him this time around.

"My goal right now is to have a healthy and good Spring Training," Darvish said. "I think that's going to determine how the season is going to be. I have no idea if it's going to be better or worse or stay the same, but as long as I'm healthy, I think I'm going to have a really good season."

The Rangers expect their starting rotation to be a major strength, and right now Darvish and Matt Harrison stand as the staff aces. They combined for 34 wins in 2012, second most by a pair of teammates in the AL, behind 35 by David Price and James Shields of the Rays.

"The ultimate goal is to win the championship, obviously, so I don't really know the definition of the ace of the staff," Darvish said. "If you're the first in the rotation it doesn't mean you're the ace. But the most important thing is that everyone in the rotation stays healthy and be in there in October and win the championship and that's my goal.

"What I have to do is do my job here at Spring Training and do the best I can during the season, and whatever the result is at the end of the season, that's what I'm going to have."

That will work for his manager.

"I see him doing what he's done his whole career," Washington said. "I see him as a pitcher on our staff with quality stuff and a tremendous work ethic. He doesn't expect anything except to be successful. I do believe he'll win ballgames for us. I just can't put a number on it."

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.

{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }