SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — The mere presence of Yu Darvish on the mound made this more than an ordinary day at camp for the Texas Rangers.
Intrasquad games normally draw few fans with mostly scouts, wives, families, girlfriends and club officials in attendance.
That was certainly not the case Friday. The stands were nearly full, people were standing and more than 100 members of the media attended.
Most everyone came to see Darvish, the Japanese star who's starting his first season with the two-time AL champions.
The 25-year-old, 6-foot-5 righty did fine. He struck out Elvis Andrus while throwing a hitless third inning. The sound of a horde of cameras shuttering with every one of his 21 pitches drowned out the thud of the ball hitting the mitt of catcher Dusty Brown.
"My fastball life and the quality are not even close at all to season form," Darvish said through a translator. "At this time every year my fastball quality and feel are not good. We still have a month to go."
Darvish is scheduled to pitch again March 7 against San Diego.
Instead of facing minor league hitters, as he had been doing in batting practice, Darvish faced the top of the Rangers' batting order — Ian Kinsler, Andrus, Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre.
Darvish twice fell behind in the count 3-0 and threw only 11 strikes.
"You could tell he was a little nervous," Hamilton said. "It's the first time facing hitters, everybody's watching as far as game-type situations. Overall, he looks very confident on the mound and obviously that will continue to grow the more games we get into.
"Going to a new team, a new situation, a new culture all those things play a factor in how you're feeling. You can step into his shoes a little bit and think about how he's feeling — not really know, but just think about it. He'll get better when he settles in," he said.
After opening with three straight balls to Kinsler, Darvish evened the count with two called strikes. Kinsler flied out to shallow left on a slider.
"It's tough to judge the first outing of the year on a backfield in Surprise, Ariz.," Kinsler said. "He had a clean inning. He threw strikes when he needed to. He threw me a 3-2 offspeed pitch, a slider. That's pretty good on the first day to have confidence in your offspeed stuff to throw in a full count."
Darvish struck out Andrus swinging at a sinker.
"A saw a super slow curve, it was good," Andrus said. "The fastball had a lot of life on it. All around he looked pretty good. He threw me two pretty good sinkers. It's going to be a great pitch for him during the season."
"He knows how good of a pitcher he is. He knows how well he controls his pitches. We truly believe he's going to get everything back on track and be the Yu Darvish everybody knows," he said.
Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP, walked on five pitches.
"The ball moved tremendously," Hamilton said.
Darvish ended the inning by getting Beltre on a grounder.
Radar guns clocked Darvish's fastball between 93-96 mph.
When Darvish took the mound the temperature was in the upper 50s with a north wind of 15 to 25 miles per hour, gusting up to 40, making it unseasonably chilly in Arizona. Darvish said that did not affect his balance and mechanics.
"I think the delivery is fine," he said. "I've thrown in these types of conditions before."
He shook off Brown a few times.
"I've been told by the pitching coach to throw the pitch you want to throw," Darvish said. "There is nothing wrong with shaking off the catcher. The reason I shook him off and went to my pitch is not to try to work on anything. I tried to get the guy out."
He said it was fun facing the top of the Texas lineup.
"I enjoyed it," he said. "I was fortunate to throw against three quality hitters like that. The superstars around the league, I don't know everyone, but I'm looking forward very much to facing those guys."
Kinsler is glad he will be playing behind Darvish during the regular season.
"I'm glad he's on our team," he said. "There's no doubt about that. I'm glad we don't have to face him in our division or in our league. We're real excited about having him on the team."