TORONTO — Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish strolled into the visitors’ clubhouse at the Rogers Centre, sat down on one of the leather couches and let out a big yawn.
The spotlight has never been brighter on the Japanese star but you wouldn’t know it by his demeanour.
He appeared as relaxed as could be Monday afternoon, a couple hours before taking the mound against the Blue Jays in a game that was televised across the United States on ESPN — a rarity for a Toronto game.
Darvish, 25, looked over at the group of reporters and smiled from his comfortable perch, a mess of shaggy reddish-light brown hair scattered across his forehead and over his ears.
He didn’t waste any time showing his stuff when he got on the mound. Darvish struck out Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson before getting Jose Bautista to fly out for a 1-2-3 first inning.
“He’s got a reputation,” said manager Ron Washington. “He’s a quality pitcher, he’s got quality stuff.”
A few dozen fans gathered near the right-field foul pole before the game to try to catch a glimpse of the six-foot-five right-hander as the Rangers tossed the ball around.
“I like his pitching because it’s very powerful,” said Toronto resident Tomo Tanaka, who’s originally from Japan.
Darvish was a star with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters before signing with the Rangers in the off-season.
He pitched for gold medal-winning Japan teams in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and the 2007 Asian Baseball Championship.
He’s off to a great start with his new team, entering Monday’s game with a 3-0 record and 2.42 earned-run average. Darvish is the first starter in Rangers history to win three of his first four career games.
“I’ve been impressed with his stuff,” Washington said.
“He can sink it, he can run it, he can hop it. He can slow it down, make it quick, cut it, split it. He can do everything with the baseball.
“It’s just a matter of using that stuff at the proper time and that’s what the catchers are here for. And so far he’s been following their lead.”
Media interest was much higher with the press box filled to capacity.
However, the stadium appeared only half-full at the start of the game.
The Rangers committed more than $107 million to acquire Japan’s top pitcher.
He got a six-year contract worth $56 million and Texas had to pay a record $51.7-million posting bid to the Ham Fighters.
The two-time Pacific League MVP had a 93-38 record with a 1.99 ERA in 167 games over the past seven years.