The Top 5 Pitching Performances of the Rangers 2013 Season

Darvish
September has been a nightmare for the Texas Rangers and their fans. I could use this space to break down how bad it has been, or how it has still been an impressive season and could get better, but frankly you can get the former from just about anywhere right now, and the spoonful of hope in the latter can be difficult to swallow at times like this. 
So let’s just say the Rangers have been a few fries short of a happy meal and as effective as a toothbrush without bristles this month. We’ll hope it gets better, and try to think more happy thoughts heading into the last 14 games to play with 14 days left in the season.

After the Rangers suffered their fourth 1-0 loss of a Yu Darvish start this year on Saturday, I tweeted that “Darvish’s season this year is going to be one of the 10 best I ever see for the Rangers, and his start today was top 5 for this year”. That tweet was an emotional one in defense of Darvish, as there were some who were still criticizing his heart, determination, Ace-ness, The Will To Win quotient he possesses, or something, after he dominated a potent A’s offense for seven innings Saturday. But it did get me curious if I would actually classify that start as a top five performance by a Rangers pitcher this year.

This list may be premature, as it might still change before the season’s out. It would be wonderful if it does.

#5: August 4th – Derek Holland at Oakland Athletics – 8.0 IP; 4 H; 0 R; 2 BB; 10 SO; 0 HR

This was the hardest spot to fill on this abridged list. Other contenders were another eight-inning shutout performance by Holland at Boston, a 14-strikeout performance by Darvish at Arizona, and the aforementioned Darvish start from this past Saturday against Oakland.

This Holland start at Oakland took the spot because it was on the road against a division rival, and brought Texas to within 2.5 games of the division lead, after being six games back just one week before. The ten strikeouts by Holland matched his season high; a total he has only reached two other times this season, both against Seattle.

Holland completed this outing on 112 pitches, 77 of which were for strikes. He pounded the zone with fastballs, firing 57 of the 75 he threw for strikes. The eighth and final inning of this Holland start was a brief six-pitch inning that included a strikeout on four pitches, a first-pitch single, and a first-pitch double play grounder.

#4: August 11th – Martin Perez at Houston Astros – 9.0 IP; 4 H; 1 R; 2 BB; 8 SO; 1 HR

This was the best start of Perez’s career to date. He notched his first complete game and set a career high in strikeouts. Perez had his good change-up working on this day, and used it extensively to keep right-handed hitters off balance, generating swings-and-misses on almost 20% of the change-ups he threw.

Perez came within one batter of a complete game shutout in this start, but with two outs in the ninth, he surrendered a solo home run to Chris Carter. The rookie lefty did come back and get the next batter out to end the game, however.

#3: August 12th – Yu Darvish at Houston Astros – 8.0 IP; 1 H; 1 R; 1 BB; 15 SO; 1 HR

Darvish carried a perfect game through five innings before walking a batter in the sixth. He then carried the no-hitter until giving up a solo home run with one out in the eighth inning.

Despite not completing the perfecto, no-no, or even the full nine innings, Darvish racked up 15 strikeouts for his new career high. Darvish threw his slider the same number of times as his fastball in this start. He also tallied the same number of whiffs on the two pitches, which is unusual for the Darvish slider. Even so, the Astros were no match for Darvish, even though it was the fourth time they had faced him this season.

#2: June 27th – Derek Holland at New York Yankees – 9.0 IP; 2 H; 0 R; 2 BB; 7 SO; 0 HR

This has been the only complete game shutout pitched by a Rangers pitcher this season, and was the sixth of Holland’s career. Out of those six career shutouts, this was the third time that Holland did so in less than 100 pitches, affectionately referred to as a “Maddux”.

The meaning of this performance was amplified because it came against the Yankees, in Yankees stadium (even though the Yankees lineup included names like Vernon Wells hitting cleanup, Zolio Almonte, Lyle Overbay, David Adams, Alberto Gonzalez, and Austin Romine). It also had a little special flavor to it because just two days before, Holland had spent the day walking around New York City with Justin Grimm looking like this:

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#1: April 2nd – Yu Darvish at Houston Astros – 8.2 IP; 1 H; 0 R; 0 BB; 14 SO; 0 HR

Also known as the day that Marwin Gonzalez etched his name into Rangers lore for years to come. This was the day in which Darvish was perfect for 26 batters, before giving up a first-pitch single to Gonzalez that went right between Darvish’s legs.

Had he been able to capture that 27th out, Darvish would have tied Sandy Koufax and Matt Cain with 14 strikeouts for the most ever thrown in a perfect game.

According to Brooks Baseball, Darvish threw his cut fastball on 46 of the 111 pitches he threw . Since then, Darvish has only thrown more than 30 cutters one time. While he threw the cutter 41% of the time in this game, he has averaged throwing it 15% of the time in the remainder of 2013.

Darvish may never get as close to throwing a perfect game or a no-hitter as he did on that day. It was as if it was a foregone conclusion for much of the game, and then that dream was quickly extinguished by a ground ball up the middle.

Yes, it was against the 2013 Houston Astros, and with that come the necessary asterisk marks, but Darvish sparkled on that day, and put on display the kind of magic he is capable of.

Summary

In September, the average for Rangers starting pitchers is to last 5 1/3 innings with a 5.43 ERA. Recent events make it difficult to remember that for the majority of this year, the rotation has been a strength of the club, despite injuries to Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis. These five pitching performances were the cream of a rather large crop of quality starts. Here’s to seeing more like them in the next few weeks.

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM
Peter Ellwood

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