SURPRISE, Ariz. -- All eyes have been on Yu Darvish since he first set foot on a mound this spring. Since his first start, he's had his share of ups and downs, but for the most part he's been as advertised. However, as talented as Darvish may be, there are some aspects of his game that may trip him up in his first big league season.
Any flaws Yu Darvish shows are more related to approach than anything else. It's difficult to make the argument that his raw stuff is anything short of fantastic.
Darvish had his velocity up to 95-96 mph in the first inning of his Monday outing, but quickly settled in around 91-93 and topped out around 94 mph throughout the remainder of his outing. He's had better days in terms of raw velocity, but even not at his best his fastball shows explosive life through the zone, and the ball really seems to jump at hitters from his smooth, free and easy delivery.
Another interesting wrinkle in Darvish' arsenal is his cut fastball. It's very difficult to differentiate from his four-seam fastball out of his hand and has hard, late darting life at 89-91 mph. He appears capable of locating this offering very consistently as well.
Given his ability to spot his fastball and his ability to change speeds with it and create movement, there are stretches where Darvish could likely dominant for parts of a game primarily with the hard stuff. But, that is clearly not the type of pitcher he is. Darvish likes to attack with an array of breaking pitches, including an extra slow curveball at 64-70 mph and a devastating two-plane slider thrown at 80-84 mph. That slider has the potential be one of the more dominant swing and miss offerings in American League.
The issue with his approach is how he uses these secondary pitches. You'll see Darvish pitch backwards quite a bit, throwing a slow curveball to start off an at-bat or throw a slider behind in the count. In some situations, his confidence in these offerings make for a tremendous strength in his game and adds to his unpredictability. On the other hand, Texas probably does not want to see Darvish fall prey to some of the same issues Daisuke Matsuzaka has struggled with since coming to the United States.
Like Matsuzaka, Darvish has multiple plus offerings but could afford to be far more aggressive in the zone, particularly with his fastball. He has a tendency to get into some deep counts over and over again, mainly because of his nibbling on the edges of the zone with his secondary pitches.
"All the tools are there for him to have a lot of success in the majors," said one scout watching Darvish. "But, he has to stay aggressive. He has a live fastball and his breaking ball is going to miss bats, but these hitters aren't going to bite early in counts on some of his pitches."
So, if you're searching for the Achilles heel of Yu Darvish, it's his present lack of aggression early in counts with his fastball. This style of using all the weapons in your arsenal will get Darvish an outstanding strikeout rate, but it's going to be difficult for him to consistently pitch deep into games this way. And, the hitters in the American League may be able to wait him out much in the same way they did with Daisuke Matsuzuka.
With a small tweaking of approach, none of this will be an issue, however. Darvish's overall stuff, command, and fastball life are better than Matsuzaka's and he has the ability to pitch at an ace level in the big leagues. But, he has to realize what his best weapons are, namely his fastball, and be willing to go at hitters aggressively and get some quicker outs. Just because he has so many different pitches to choose from doesn't mean he has to show them to every hitter he faces.