ARLINGTON -- Rangers starting pitcher Yu Darvish has taken the early lead in the American League's Final Vote competition.In the first voting update released Tuesday morning, Darvish was in first place among the five pitchers involved in the competition. He was ahead of White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, followed by Jason Hammel of the Orioles, Ernesto Frieri of the Angels and Jonathan Broxton of the Royals. Darvish, in his first season in the Majors, is 10-5 with a 3.57 ERA after 16 starts. He is second in the league with 117 strikeouts, and opponents are batting .227 off him, the sixth-lowest opponent batting average in the league. Rangers president Nolan Ryan is among those who have been impressed with what they have seen from Darvish. "I have been really pleased with the way he's pitched, and he's made the transition really well," Ryan said. "Sometimes he has struggled early in the game with his command, but his stuff gets better as the game goes along and he gets in a better rhythm. I thought Sunday night [against Oakland] was as strong of an outing as he has had. He was in rhythm right from the start and he had his velocity, and he was able to maintain [that] throughout the game."
The Rangers won the rights to Darvish last winter with a high posting bid of $51.7 million to his former team, the Nippon Ham Fighters. They then signed him to a six-year, $56 million contract. The Rangers did so after extensively scouting Darvish for two years in Japan, with 12 different members of the organization watching him pitch in person."Obviously, it was not your normal signing, and so there were a lot of different issues that needed to be addressed," Ryan said. "But our organization had done their homework. Both our scouts and our front office felt it was a fit for us. At some point, you have to trust the people you hired to do the job, and we had the feeling that we were right on this." Ryan did not make a trip to Japan, but he did watch Darvish pitch on video, just as he did when the Rangers considered signing Colby Lewis out of Japan after the 2009 season. "I saw enough video on Colby," Ryan said. "I felt the same way on Darvish. But with Darvish, there was more unknown because he was coming from a Japanese culture, and he would have to make a certain transition and overcome things like the language barrier." Ryan now gets to watch Darvish pitch in person from his front-row seat at the Ballpark, most of the time sitting next to his wife Ruth, but also with Rangers co-owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson. Sometimes, he is joined by former President George W. Bush. "What I like about [Darvish] is he has an assortment of offspeed pitches and he has a real good feel for it," Ryan said. "He has a real feel for pitching. I think his best pitch is his slider. It's one of the best sliders in the league." The slider is just one of at least eight pitches that Darvish is able to throw at any time. The only other pitcher that Ryan has seen who could do that was Juan Marichal, the former Giants pitcher who went on to become a Hall of Famer. "Juan Marichal threw a lot of different pitches, and he threw them from different angles," Ryan said. "Those kind of pitchers are unique. There are not many of them." What Ryan and other Rangers have seen from Darvish on the mound is only the beginning of what has impressed him. His off-the-field demeanor also scores high. "He has a lot of pride and he is very determined," Ryan said. "I truly believe he wants to be one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues. He works very hard and he's focused. That's very positive for somebody who is 25 years old ... or at any age." Winning the Final Vote competition would send Darvish to Kansas City with the other "best pitchers" in the Major Leagues. The Rangers announced on Monday that fans who vote for Darvish between now and 3 p.m. CT on Thursday will be entered into the club's 2012 Vote Darvish All-Star Game Final Vote Sweepstakes. One lucky winner will receive a luxury suite for the winner and 19 guests for a Sunday regular-season home game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers also announced that they have teamed up with fellow West Division defending champions, the Arizona Diamondbacks, in this week's Final Vote drive. D-backs second baseman Aaron Hill is on the National League Final Vote ballot. The Rangers are encouraging fans on Twitter to use the hashtags #VoteYu and #FinHillVote when tweeting. Now in its 11th year, the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote presented by Firestone gives baseball fans around the world the opportunity to select the final player on each All-Star team. Balloting began immediately following Sunday's MLB All-Star Game Selection Show presented by Taco Bell and continues until Thursday at 3 p.m. CDT. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly thereafter. The fun doesn't end with voting, however. Fans, having already decided the starters and final player on each team, once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 MLB.com All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on MLB.com. The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. (EDT)/6:30 p.m. (CDT). ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage. Ryan said that having Darvish in Kansas City can only heighten the excitement surrounding the All-Star Game. "It would just be good for baseball," Ryan said. "It gives the All-Star Game an international flair, and with the Japanese audience, it would give the All-Star Game more exposure." There will be an extra treat for fans who participate in the Final Vote. If you are not a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you are eligible to receive a 14-day free trial of MLB.TV from July 6-20. If you are a current MLB.TV subscriber (MLB.TV or MLB.TV Premium), you will receive a 15-percent discount to the MLB.com Shop. MLB.com will send an email on July 6 to all Final Vote voters with instructions on how to redeem the applicable offer.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.