For all of his greatness, Yu Darvish is showing he still has to find another gear to take full ownership of his elite status. That's been clear the last four starts, culminating in Wednesday's major struggles in Oakland.
It was Darvish's biggest start of the year, and he just didn't have it. He had six walks -- six -- and allowed five runs in five innings. The normally reserved Darvish was clearly frustrated. He snapped his glove on one throw back to the mound from catcher A.J. Pierzynski. He yelled at Pierzynski and even tried to wave him off as he approached the mound to try to settle the pitcher down after a leadoff walk in the second and some misfired pitches to the second hitter of the inning. Darvish walked away from pitching coach Mike Maddux near the end of his talk on the mound with the pitcher.
Over his last four starts, Darvish is 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA. The Rangers have lost all four of those starts and sit tied for the AL West lead. It was set up for the Rangers to take a two-game lead on the A's, if Darvish pitched like he's capable. And with an offense struggling to get hits with runners in scoring position and going up against Jarrod Parker, who hadn't lost since May, Texas needed a dazzling Darvish performance. Instead, Darvish couldn't throw much of anything over the plate.
Darvish's fastball velocity and command wasn't there, so he didn't throw many four-seamers. The slider -- his best pitch -- was OK, but as is the case when you throw 40 or more of them, he left one hanging, and it proved costly. The curve was about the only thing that was getting over, and Darvish knew it. What makes Darvish so great is he has so many top-flight pitches that if one isn't working, he has plenty of other options. Wednesday was a rare time when he had an all-systems failure.
Was it the pressure? Darvish was coming off three starts in which he gave up runs late shortly after the Rangers had scored. He lost to Seattle after the offense kept tying the game, but then he would surrender runs to allow the Mariners to stay barely ahead. He had a 2-0 lead in the sixth inning against the White Sox and couldn't hold it. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh against the Twins and was up 2-0. By the time he left the mound, it was a 3-2 Twins lead.
In Oakland, it was just problems from the start. I wonder if Darvish was thinking about those previous three starts. The Rangers had set up the rotation to be sure he would pitch in this finale. He knew that. It's September and a chance to create a little space on top of the division. By any definition, it was a big game, and Darvish just couldn't get it done.
Every pitcher has a stinker game from time to time. All of them. That's what Darvish had Wednesday. But the timing was terrible for it. It shows he still has that additional gear to reach. I'm not much for the "is he an ace" debate. He's pitched like an ace too often -- late last year and early this year, for instance -- to simply dismiss the title after a rough patch. But to stay at the elite status, he has to find more consistency. He has to pitch well when the pressure is at its highest. He didn't do that in Oakland. He's too good not to find that gear, but as the last four starts have shown, he hasn't found it yet.