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March 31, 2012

Yu Darvish strikes out 11 in final Cactus League start

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Yu Darvish saved his best for last this Cactus League season.

The Rangers’ right-hander struck out 11 in six innings and left his fourth and final spring start with a 5-3 lead that turned into the final score against Colorado.

Darvish wasn’t perfect, allowing six hits and a walk and hitting Michael Cuddyer. Jason Giambi had half of the Rockies’ hits, including a mammoth two-run homer in the second inning as Darvish struggled early with his fastball command.

But he settled into a groove after the homer, retiring 12 of the next 13 before Dexter Fowler started the sixth with a single and would score three batters later on a single by Todd Helton.

He struck out Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki three times apiece. Gonzalez saw 10 pitches from Darvish, nine of them strikes.

“I thought he was impressive,” bullpen coach Andy Hawkins said. “He went at those guys, and I thought he did good job. He had no scouting report to go off, and he executed his pitches.”

Darvish said that he had command issues in the first few innings, and he was behind in the count 2-0 before allowing a double to Todd Helton to start the second and the Giambi homer in the next at-bat.

“I couldn’t throw anything for a strike,” said Darvish, who finished the Cactus League campaign with a 1-0 record an a 3.60 ERA. “I laid it in there, and I deserved to get hit like that in that situation.”

But he and catcher Mike Napoli decided to ditch the four-seam fastball for the two-seamer, a move that started his role through the third, fourth and fifth innings that included five of his strikeouts.

“It didn’t seem like I had that many strikeouts,” Darvish said. “Just the way Mike and I worked together tonight, and some of the great pitching calling he made for me and the way I was able to pitch comfortably, that all led to the 11 strikeouts.”

He threw a 65-mph curveball to Marco Scutaro that had the second baseman bailing out of the box. Umpire Lance Barrett signaled strike three to end the inning.

“Scutaro went running back to the dugout like that was a Bert Blyleven curveball,” manager Ron Washington said.

Tulowitzki and Gonzalez were also caught chasing off-speed pitches.

“His off-speed stuff was outstanding,” Hawkins said.

Darvish threw 98 pitches/62 strikes and said he felt fine. Had this been a regular-season game, said Washington, Darvish would have started the seventh inning.

He has one more outing before the regular seaosn, Wednesday in Frisco, with a 65-pitch limit. He is scheduled to make his major-league debut April 9. He said that he is satisfied with his spring as a whole, but still has some work to do.

“It’s slowly coming together. I’m making better pitches and more of them, but slowly it’s starting to come together,” Darvish said. “I don’t know when that’s going to come together, but I’m going to work hard to make sure it does come. I think just pitching to situations. I can still improve on that.”

-- Jeff Wilson

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