04/08/12 7:08 PM ET
Mariners' hitters excited to face Darvish
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
But the first-year Mariners infielder kept his scouting report pretty simple when asked about his former Japanese World Baseball Classic teammate, whom Seattle faces Monday at 5:05 p.m. PT in Darvish's Major League debut.
"He's a great pitcher," Kawasaki said Saturday through interpreter Antony Suzuki.
But exactly what style of pitcher will the American audience see when Darvish takes the mound?
"That's something you guys can look forward to," Kawasaki said with a smile. "Please enjoy his pitching."
How much the Mariners themselves enjoy it remains to be seen. Darvish was 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in four Cactus League starts, with 21 strikeouts and eight walks in 15 innings pitched.
He's a hard-throwing 6-foot-5 hurler with an impressive variety of pitches, and enough promise that the Rangers posted a $51.7 million bid to the Nippon Ham Fighters for the right to negotiate with him. The Rangers then signed him to a six-year, $60 million deal.
Darvish is something akin to the Felix Hernandez of Japanese baseball, breaking in with Nippon Ham at age 18 and piling up a 93-38 record and 1.99 ERA by age 24. He was recognized as the premier pitcher in the Pacific League, and now takes his talents to America and a new challenge.
Darvish has been the focus of considerable media attention, both in Japan and the U.S. this spring. The fact that he'll make his first U.S. start against a Mariners team that includes Ichiro Suzuki, the premier Japanese position player in MLB history, only adds to the scene.
"It's going to be crazy, with a big following just like there is for Ichiro," said Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley. "Especially him playing Ichiro, will probably make it that much [more] hyped. So it'll be fun to see. Us having our first game in Texas there with him and Ichiro, I think it'll be a cool story."
Ichiro, 38, is 13 years older than Darvish. The two have never met in a regular-season game, but Japanese reporters say Ichiro faced Darvish for one at-bat in a practice game leading up to the 2006 WBC for Team Japan, and had a base hit.
Their only other meeting, reportedly, was during a live batting practice session during preparation for the 2009 WBC, with Ichiro grounding out.
"He's a great baseball player in Japan, and the United States, and I'll be looking forward to it and enjoy facing him," Darvish told reporters earlier this spring. "But I can't really talk about enjoyment. I have to think about ways to get him out. And I would like to go after him and try to get him out."
Kawasaki, 30, said he couldn't remember how many times he's faced Darvish, and such records are hard to come by, but Japanese reporters estimate he probably had about 50 at-bats in Pacific League play against the Nippon Ham ace over the past five years.
Kawasaki made his first start for the Mariners on Saturday when starting shortstop Brendan Ryan came up with a stiff neck. Manager Eric Wedge indicated Ryan would be back in the lineup Monday if healthy, despite Kawasaki's experience against Darvish, but the veteran shortstop will do what he can if given the opportunity.
"I'll give it all my effort. That's all I have," Kawasaki said.
Kawasaki, Ichiro and new Mariners reliever Hisashi Iwakuma were all teammates of Darvish's on Japan's WBC championship team in 2009. Kawasaki said he'd gladly offer his advice to teammates if asked, but said every hitter takes their own approach.
Ackley acknowledged there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to the Rangers newest sensation.
"I don't know how much video there is on him," Ackley said. "It'll be tough, because until you get out there and face him live, you're not going to know what it looks like."
But Ackley saw enough from Japanese pitchers during Seattle's recent trip to Tokyo -- when the Mariners played two exhibitions against the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants -- to get an idea of what they'll be up against.
"I feel like all the Japanese pitchers have a lot of different pitches, for some reason," he said. "They've got splitters, sliders, curveballs. They move it any way they want. Especially a guy like him that throws as hard as he does, that's going to make it that much tougher.
"In Japan, those guys seemed to know how to attack hitters," Ackley said. "So we'll see how it goes. Hopefully we can get to him early."