Pitcher Yu Darvish gets going at last with Rangers

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Associated Press

Posted on February 23, 2012 at 4:12 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 23 at 5:03 PM

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — The Texas Rangers would love to hear Yu Darvish's best go at "y'all."

"Some Texas twang, any type of slang," said fellow starter Colby Lewis, who spent time pitching in Japan in the opposite division as Darvish. "He'll have fun. It's going to be good."

Give him a little time, gang. Darvish most certainly would prefer to show off his powerful arm and remarkable athletic abilities before he delves into learning the lingo of the Lone Star State or belting out "Deep in the Heart of Texas."

Darvish, with his shaggy, orange-tinted hair and a dark goatee, pulled a blue long-sleeved Rangers workout shirt over his head Thursday and chatted up teammate Justin Miller as nearly everybody in the clubhouse eagerly watched.

"It's definitely not normal," Darvish said. "Even now, am I the type of player who should get all this attention? I still don't know."

At 6-foot-5, he's quite a presence even before considering that the Rangers spent more than $107 million this winter to land him.

Texas will be dealing with its share of "Yusanity."

"I guess this comes with success and all that," manager Ron Washington said Thursday, before taking the field to watch Darvish himself. "People are interested in the Texas Rangers so I guess we just have to deal with it."

The team's prize offseason pickup looked plenty comfortable in his new surroundings on the first day for pitchers and catchers at Surprise Stadium, where dozens of Japanese reporters arrived early to record the right-hander's every move.

No question his fame reaches cult status. And Darvish seems unfazed by it all.

"Even in Japan, yes, these things happen and I'm used to it. I'm not surprised," Darvish said. "Even in Japan there's a lot of attention on the baseball side. Away (from the field), just as a professional athlete with some type of status, there are some people who try to get into my private life. I don't let those things worry me."

Fans lined the area around the bullpen to catch a glimpse and autograph hounds were relentless in their efforts, swarming until a claustrophobic circle formed around the pitcher as he wrapped up his work day. Darvish received a police escort between practice fields.

"I directed traffic," joked pitching coach Mike Maddux. "It's a little postseason pandemonium here in spring training. A lot of guys are well known. Sometimes you run into somebody who's famous. That's what we're dealing with, someone who's famous."

Texas personnel provided a detailed schedule for the star Japanese pitcher's highly anticipated first day: from when and where he would stretch and warm up to his first fundamental drill and then his initial bullpen session.

Darvish threw for five minutes in the bullpen followed by five minutes on the mound against live hitters, throwing 19 pitches during that session against a pair of minor leaguers — tossing an array of fastballs to both sides of the plate, sliders, curveballs, change-ups and even one split-finger.

"Actually I don't even know how many pitches I throw," Darvish said. "I think a lot of people in this room have an idea of how many pitches I throw."

Darvish demonstrated his wit and personality for a news conference of an estimated 130 people.

What does he like about his new home?

"A lot of organic food. I can go to restaurants and not be recognized," he said. "I like everything about the United States."

Catcher Mike Napoli asked to catch Darvish on Day 1, when slugger Josh Hamilton also was out on the field and signing autographs.

"I'm just excited to get the chance to see him pitch for the first time aside from the footage on ESPN," new Rangers reliever Joe Nathan said. "His work ethic seems to be outstanding. We had a chance to talk yesterday. He enjoys getting in the weight room as much as he enjoys pitching. That will help him pitch a long time and he should adjust a lot quicker."

Darvish's father, Farsad, is in the Arizona desert to help his son through that process. The baseball part of Darvish's life will take care of itself, his father said.

"He seems to be doing OK," the elder Darvish said. "I don't really talk to him about his baseball career. That he gets adjusted and used to the culture is my concern. He's been in the big leagues in Japan and gets a lot of attention, so to him this is normal."

The two-time reigning AL champion Rangers don't envision communication problems with the 25-year-old Darvish, and Washington has no plans to learn Japanese — for one, he doesn't see it fitting it into his already hectic spring schedule.

"I don't want to trash the language," Washington quipped. "I'll use my universal baseball language. I trash the English language."

Washington won't say what day Darvish will first pitch in Cactus League action or guess how many wins he will earn as a rookie. There will be huge expectations given he signed a $56 million, six-year contract and the Rangers paid his Japanese club $51.7 million just to have the chance to acquire him.

"I think we're all excited about seeing him throw, watching him do his work," Rangers president and CEO Nolan Ryan said. "I think watching video on him I have an expectation of what he's going to be like so I don't think it's going to be really much different from what I've seen in the videos of him. But you know just seeing his delivery, watching him from different angles and that kind of stuff. Obviously everybody that's been involved in this process is anxious to see that."

When asked about working for Ryan and being coached by Greg Maddux this spring, Darvish said: "Those two people, I feel a little hesitant to approach them. If they come to me with advice I'll be very grateful."

The brass lined up behind the fence to observe Darvish's initial session. He impressed all right — and he was only going at 80 percent according to Napoli and the pitching coaches. When he faced top prospect Jurickson Profar and Ryan Strausborger the protective L screen stood right in front of the mound as a precaution.

Napoli gave Darvish a high-five and a hug after they were done.

Seattle resident and Mariners fan David Duggan showed up Thursday with Darvish's World Baseball Classic jersey hoping to get it signed for his 20-month-old daughter, Hannah.

"When Ichiro came I didn't realize the magnitude of it," Duggan said. "This could be like Ichiro mania or Dice-K mania."

Darvish's routine has been carefully mapped out. He will throw every other day and pitch in an intrasquad game on Day 9.

"He handles himself well," Maddux said. "He was there and eager to go. He didn't want to wait to throw. That's refreshing."

Darvish isn't ready to make any bold predictions. His approach is fairly simple: get his work done and stay healthy. How good he will be, he has no idea.

"That's hard to guess. I haven't made any pitches in the big leagues yet," Darvish said. "I will do everything to be the best pitcher I can be."

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AP Sports Writer Bob Baum contributed to this story.

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