April 27, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas -- If you just looked at the names of the starting pitchers for Wednesday's series finale between Texas and Oakland, it would seem like a no-contest on paper.

The Rangers will go with one of their aces in right-hander Yu Darvish (3-3) as they look to complete a three-game sweep of the A's. Oakland will counter with rookie left-hander Sean Manaea (4-7). That would seem to give the first-place Rangers a clear advantage when you just look at the names and resumes.

The numbers say otherwise though.

As good as Darvish had been in his career overall, he's been dreadful against the A's. Darvish has made 11 career starts against Oakland and has just one win. He's 1-8 with a 4.76 ERA and has lost eight straight decisions. The last time Darvish beat Oakland was in 2012.

There are signs that Darvish should be able to turn things around this year. For one, he's fresh.

"I don't think I've pitched 10 games this season so I don't think I'm that tired yet," said Darvish, who turned 30 Tuesday and will make his 10th start of the season against the A's.

In addition to being fresh, Darvish also comes into the start on a roll. He's logged five straight quality starts despite going just 1-3 since he returned from the disabled list July 16. He got his first win since coming off the DL for right shoulder discomfort Friday against Detroit and has been among the American League leaders in several pitching categories over the last month. That includes strikeouts, as Darvish has struck out 48 in the six starts. That's second only to Detroit's Justin Verlander in the AL (50) in that timeframe.

Darvish, who threw a season-high 107 pitches against the Tigers, isn't thinking about strikeouts when he's out there.

"I threw a lot of pitches in the first two innings of my start and in my mind I was just trying to get quick outs so I was trying to throw in the strike zone and they were hitting early in the counts and I think that helped," said Darvish, who pitched 6 2/3 innings in that game. "That's me just trying to go deep into the game."

Like Darvish, Manaea knows a thing of two about strikeouts. He's second among AL rookies in strikeouts with 87 despite missing two weeks in June with a left pronator strain.

Seventeen of those strikeouts have come against the Rangers, as Manaea has faced Texas three times this year and has as many career wins against Texas in that time as Darvish does against Oakland. Manaea is 1-0 against Texas with a 3.06 ERA in his three starts.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin didn't want to divulge what's made Manaea so tough against the Rangers, but he did stress how mature the 24-year-old is.

"He's just pitching better against everybody right now," Melvin said. "Early on he had some more difficult outings. He's just getting comfortable in the big leagues. When he sees teams a second time, he knows a little bit more so how to pitch guys. I think he's just getting better and better and more comfortable in the big leagues, not just against a particular team."

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