OAKLAND, Calif. — Two significant things happened early in the Texas Rangers’ game Monday.
The Rangers got Yu Darvish an early run, something they’d failed to do at any point while he was in the game during his first three starts. And, an inning later, Brandon Moss once again punished a Darvish pitch to neutralize any advantage the Rangers ace had.
Or in other words: The more some things change, the more others stay the same.
Even when the Rangers score for Darvish, he has trouble with Oakland.
Darvish, the Rangers’ ace, took a 1-6 career record and 4.30 ERA against Oakland into the start. He had lost six consecutive decisions since winning his first one. For a team aiming to dislodge Oakland from the top of the AL West, those are disconcerting numbers.
“I don’t know if we can set a tone this series, but yes, we want to get these games going and see where we stand,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said before the game. “This is the team we judge ourselves by. Right now, they are the leader. We’d like to come up here and represent ourselves well, but it’s not going to make or break our season if it doesn’t go our way.”
If things are to go the Rangers way this season, Darvish is going to have to find a way to beat Oakland. And to do that, he’s going to have to figure out a way to pitch effectively or, at least, around Moss.
In each of his last four starts against Oakland, Moss has terrorized him early in the game.
On Monday, Darvish took a 1-0 lead to the second courtesy of a Shin-Soo Choo leadoff homer and Darvish’s own ability to dance around trouble in the bottom of the inning. The Choo homer was the rarest of rarities for Darvish — a first inning lead. A year ago, the Rangers scored in the first inning seven times for Darvish. He responded by going 6-0 with a 2.52 ERA in those games. The Rangers won all seven.
But against Oakland, all of Darvish’s trends — except the bad ones — seem to go out the window.
And it all starts with Moss.
In his last three starts against Oakland, dating back to June of 2013, Moss delivered a big hit early in the game to put Darvish in a bind. On each occasion, either the Rangers’ offense failed to respond or Darvish simply folded.
In the previous three outings, though, Darvish had relied heavily on his cut fastball, a pitch he’s all but pocketed this season. Last September 14, Moss doubled with two outs on a first-inning cutter to score Josh Donaldson, who walked. That was all the offense in the game.
Ten days earlier, Moss hit a two-run, two-out homer in the first inning to start an 11-4 rout. It also came on a cutter, which runs into the left-handed hitting Moss.
And in June, Moss had led off the second inning with a homer on a flat fastball after watching a cutter for a strike. Oakland went on to score five runs against Darvish in six innings in a 6-2 win.
Darvish had announced that he was well aware of Oakland’s approach against him before Monday’s start.
“I know what their strategy against me is. I just have to figure it out from there,” Darvish said. “I just have to see how I feel that day and make adjustments and see how their approach is against me in the first two innings.”
On Monday, Darvish threw 20 pitches in the first inning, and Moss apparently took note. The scouting report on Darvish that is quickly developing is that he’s more willing to attack with the fastball early in the count this season. So when Darvish delivered something up in the zone, Moss, who virtually stands on top of the plate, attacked it himself and drove it just over the fence in right to tie the game.
Darvish then walked No. 7 hitter Josh Reddick and allowed back-to-back two-out hits to Eric Sogard and Coco Crisp. The latter put Darvish behind, 3-1.
The more things change when it comes to Darvish and Oakland, the more they stay the same.
On Twitter: @Evan_P_Grant
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