- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
There was a moment during Yu Darvish's start against the New York Yankees on Tuesday when Texas Rangers catcher Mike Napoli dropped into a squat to call a pitch and made an unusual sign -- sort of an upside-down L, aimed in the direction of the right-handed batter.
Ken Singleton, broadcasting the game on YES, noted that he had never seen a sign like this before. This is what a catcher must do when his pitcher has more than three or four or five pitches -- invent signals beyond the standard stuff.
It's one thing to be able to throw a lot of pitches, but it's a different kind of challenge entirely to maintain command of such a wide array. There are only so many bullets for a pitcher between starts, only so many times they can throw a baseball, and this is why a lot of pitchers will streamline their repertoire.
While throwing 35 to 50 pitches in their bullpen session, and while playing catch daily with their catching partner, they'll devote a certain percentage of their throws to fastballs, some to their breaking balls, some to their changeups -- depending on what pitch needs the most work, the most maintenance. Derek Holland is Darvish's catching partner, and he says the right-hander can somehow maintain command of all of his different pitches with minimal practice.
He throws a couple of different fastballs, two different speeds of curveballs (a hard curve and a big looping curveball), a slider, a cutter, a splitter. This means that he's probably throwing one or two of his pitches only four or five times a week and keeping them game-ready.
This is an incredible, difference-making skill, reflecting a gifted feel for how to make a baseball move. Imagine a quarterback who could master an entire offense while practicing particular plays only once or twice a season.
Yu Darvish has this.
Darvish gave everybody reason to believe the hype.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Darvish won:
A) Darvish threw 82 of 119 pitches (68.9 percent) for strikes, well above his 56.8 percent average entering the night.
B) He started 21 of 33 hitters (63.6 percent) with a first-pitch strike. In his first three starts, he threw a first-pitch strike to less than 48 percent of all hitters.
C) Thirteen of the 21 balls in play (61.9 percent) against Darvish were hit on the ground, compared with 42.1 percent in his first three starts. Twenty-two of Darvish's 25 outs were either grounders or strikeouts.
D) Lefties entered Tuesday hitting .313 against Darvish; the six Yankees lefties in the lineup Tuesday were 4-for-21 with eight strikeouts against Darvish.
E) Yankees lefties were 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in at-bats ending with Darvish's curveball.
F) Yankees hitters were 1-for-12 with five strikeouts with men on base.
G) The Yankees chased 25 Darvish pitches out of the strike zone; opponents had chased an average of 12 in Darvish's first three starts.
Darvish is the second starting pitcher in Rangers history with 10 strikeouts and 0 ER against the Yankees. Joe Coleman struck out 11 in nine scoreless innings in 1969.
From Elias: Since divisional play began in 1969, only two other pitchers besides Darvish have hurled at least eight shutout innings with 10 or more strikeouts in their first career start against the Yankees: Baltimore's Bob Milacki on Sept. 28, 1988, and Cleveland's Bartolo Colon on Sept. 21, 1998.
• Dylan Bundy was unhittable, again, as Jon Meoli writes. The Orioles prospect is 13 innings into his professional career and still hasn't allowed a hit.
• David Ortiz has been killing the ball, and he wrecked the Minnesota Twins with another opposite-field double and a monster home run. Ortiz has been hammering hits to left field -- far more than last year.
From Justin Havens of ESPN Stats & Info, where Ortiz has been getting his hits:
LF: 13 (46.4 percent)
CF: 7 (23.3 percent)
RF: 8 (26.7 percent)
LF: 49 (30.2 percent)
CF: 49 (30.2 percent)
RF: 64 (39.5 percent)
• The other day on "Baseball Tonight," I was asked to assign a pie chart of blame for Boston's 4-10 start, and this is how I broke it down:
Boston ownership and president Larry Lucchino: 35 percent. The buck stops there.
Players: 30 percent. They make it happen, either way.
Theo Epstein: 29 percent. He is gone, but the composition of the team is still built on his decisions.
Ben Cherington: 3 percent. He didn't have a lot of payroll flexibility during the winter. The one major move that has really boomeranged on him is the trade for reliever Mark Melancon.
Bobby Valentine: 3 percent. He simply hasn't been around very long.
Here's the thing: If the Red Sox were 10-6, and not 6-10, the Pie Chart of Blame would be the Pie Chart of Credit, and it would break down with the exact same percentages.
Moves, deals and decisions
3. Tal Smith has been hired to oversee an independent league team.
Dings and dents
7. Justin Smoak's hamstring is hurting.
From ESPN Stats & Info:
A) Los Angeles Angels hitters were 0-for-13 with two strikes; opponents were 9-for-36 with two strikes against Price in his first three starts.
B) Price started 21 of 32 hitters (65.6 percent) with a first-pitch strike, higher than his 55.1 percent rate in his first three starts.
C) With no lefties in the Angels' lineup, Price relied on his changeup. He threw 29 of them and got a career-high 10 of his outs in at-bats ending with the pitch.
D) Angels hitters were 1-for-15 in at-bats ending with a fastball.
3. The Pirates refused to wilt.
4. From Elias: Chipper Jones hit his fifth career HR on his birthday, tied for the most among active players with Alex Rodriguez and Todd Helton. Other career numbers on Jones' birthday: .429 batting average, 11 RBIs, eight strikeouts. Jones also joins Tony Phillips, Wade Boggs, Joe Morgan (hit two) and Bob Thurman as players who homered on their 40th birthdays. Jim Thome and Darrell Evans hold the MLB record, homering on their 41st birthdays.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Only six teams have lost as many as 12 straight games in April and none since the 1997 Cubs. They lost their first 14 games of the season en route to a last place finish in the NL Central.
The Royals have been at their worst in big moments, as Ned Yost said.
10. Pitching continues to be a problem for the Twins.
17. Watched a lot of the Marlins-Mets game, and for the Miami Marlins, Josh Johnson's outing must have been heartening: His velocity was up to 96 mph, and he had his best slider and cutter of the season. It didn't turn out well in the end for the Marlins, as Clark Spencer writes.
20. The Rockies' bullpen blew up.
25. The Padres were shut down.
26. The Angels are generating home runs, but its their pitchers who are doing this, not the hitters, as Bill Plunkett writes.
By The Numbers, from ESPN Stats & Info:
0: Run support for Johan Santana and Adam Wainwright this season while in the game.
323: Distance of B.J. Upton's home run Tuesday night, the shortest home run of the year that was not inside the park.
• ESPN is positioning itself to take a run at the Yankees' radio rights, reports the New York Post.
• Some new lights in Wrigley Field are wearing on opponents.
• The Dodgers are not putting fans first, writes T.J. Simers.
• There has been too much focus on Brandon Inge's impact, says Jim Leyland.
• Roger Clemens' lawyer is taking a different approach, writes Juliet Macur.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Yu Darvish's expansive arsenal of pitches is impressive, but as Buster Olney writes, it's his ability to maintain the feel and effectiveness of all of them that makes the Rangers pitcher special.