Full disclosure: I hate writing posts in this vein. It's the kind of post that will be rendered an afterthought the very second that its subject launches forth into his carefully choreographed routine of taking a baseball and doing otherworldly, nigh-impossible things with it. It's the kind of post that doesn't shed much in the way of light on anything, because virtually everyone who reads this website is well-read on the Darvish story and what he's likely going to bring to the table for the Rangers. But tonight's game is in the conversation for the most anticipated home game in the 40-plus-year history of this franchise, so let's
Here's a smaller, time-sensitive chunk of what we know at this point: Darvish, by his own admission, is not quite yet where he wants to be from either a conditioning or a command standpoint, and says that he has not yet hit the 100 percent milestone that he intends to achieve by mid-season. That's noteworthy in its own right, if only for the prefabricated explanation in the event that tonight doesn't go as well as Darvish intended. We know that Mike Napoli -- who earned significant accolades last season for his work with the Rangers' pitching staff -- will catch Darvish tonight, and that they had begun developing a rapport during their last Cactus League pairing, which theoretically should continue building tonight.
We know that the array of forecasting systems are highly optimistic on Darvish (though some are decidedly more optimistic than others), and that Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projection system has Darvish pegged with a 3.62 ERA and 125 ERA+ over 194 innings, with an All-Star-caliber 4.5-win season in his immediate future. We also know that projecting NPB imports is an exercise fraught with uncertainty, and that there are still significant questions about everything from the proper league difficulty adjustment in the projections to the NPB workload borne by his arm; however, where the latter is concerned, the abundance of 130- and 140-plus pitch count games should be substantially mitigated by (a) Japanese pitchers routinely going on six days of rest and (b) Darvish's regular dominance of his NPB competition, which enabled him to minimize the number of arm-stressing, high-leverage situations he might encounter.
And, of course, we know that the scouting reports are still brimming with giddiness, with Jason Parks authoring the below comments based on his first-hand observations of Darvish in early March, and with nothing happening between then and now that would materially detract from the tenor of the scouting report:
[It's] easy to see that Darvish is a special pitcher, one capable of missing a lot of major league quality bats right out of the chute. He showed two types of fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, two types of curveballs (66 mph and 78-80 mph), a slider, a cutter, a straight-changeup, and a splitter. He showed the ability to miss barrels with all of them, even when his overall command was good but not great. His delivery is very clean and repeatable, so the command is going to be there. The stuff is electric and explosive, and with his preternatural ability to manipulate the baseball, can show multiple varieties of each pitch, changing the speed and shape at will. It’s really an incredible experience to see the ball come out of his hand and move around as it nears the zone. I’ve never seen anything like it. This is going to be fun.
We have about reached the point where Darvish's success is perceived as inevitable and his failure is deemed virtually inconceivable, in that he boasts a true, unadulterated, ace-caliber arsenal, the mechanical consistency needed to sustain his plus control/command, the work ethic needed to keep him on his game, and the meticulously constructed support network needed for him to attain the best possible results. It is difficult for me to sit here and surmise how this could go wrong in a manner not related to injury, and even though we're fully apprised of the inherent injury risk that every pitcher faces, it's still difficult to envision such a finely tuned and conditioned machine going awry.
That's in the longer term, though. In the shorter term, I expect flaws. I expect adjustments. I expect Darvish to challenge major league hitters to the hilt, but I also fully expect him to incur a few licks of his own as a product of this self-imposed stateside challenge, and I expect him to be human. I expect him to trim his repertoire to some extent, though less by mandate and more by his own choosing as the realization arrives that he doesn't need to screw around with trying to establish a seventh or eighth pitch during a given start when his first 4-5 pitches are more than sufficient. I expect the Rangers to provide guidance, but I also expect that they're going to avoid the undue tinkering with Darvish's workout routine that undermined the Boston/Dice-K marriage.
Put more succinctly, I expect Darvish to be good. Great, even. But I don't have any great expectations for tonight, and I would much rather classify any major success on Darvish's part tonight under the "pleasantly surprised" heading than "saw that coming all the way." We'll have the entire next half-decade to elevate our Darvish expectations to impossible-to-reach heights. Give him some time to adjust.
Though, now that I've said all that, it reoccurs to me that Darvish is facing the Mariners, whom Darvish will probably ground into a fine powder and then gently blow into the Ballpark jet stream right before ascending to the heavens straight from the pitchers' mound and destroying the Metroplex in a great burst of raw energy. Because, you know, it is the Mariners.