June 01, 2014

As much attention as Yu Darvish generally receives just for his brilliance on the mound, he'll likely get more than usual from the Texas Rangers dugout Sunday.

The Texas ace had his last scheduled start skipped due to a stiff neck, a problem which also delayed his season debut, but says he's pain-free going into a road matchup with a Washington Nationals lineup which has come alive.

Darvish (4-2, 2.35 ERA) was supposed to face Minnesota on Tuesday but was scratched after waking up with neck stiffness. An MRI the following day revealed no damage, and it appeared after a side session Friday that he was fully recovered.

"He looked really good," pitching coach Mike Maddux told the Rangers' official website.

Darvish didn't pitch for three weeks in spring training because of a stiff neck and opened the season on the disabled list, pushing back his first start to April 6. He said after Friday's bullpen session that there are no lingering problems.

"I had no discomfort whatsoever," Darvish said through a translator. "It is what it is, that something like this would happen. What I have to do is take better care of it."

He last pitched May 22, beating Detroit in a 9-2 victory. Darvish lasted at least seven innings for the third consecutive start - he was the only Rangers pitcher to do so in May - and manager Ron Washington doesn't plan to hold him back Sunday.

"When Yu Darvish takes the mound, I believe he will be out there for a long time," Washington said.

Darvish has never faced the Nationals, who have outscored Texas (28-28) by a 19-4 margin to win the first two of this three-game set.

Washington (27-27) had four homers in Saturday's 10-2 victory and finished with 12 hits after having 15 in each of the previous two games. That three-game span follows a six-game stretch in which the Nationals hit .195 and totaled 14 runs.

Anthony Rendon had his first multihit game in three weeks Friday, then tied a career high with four hits Saturday, including a homer. Adam LaRoche contributed a three-run shot, and he's hit .333 with two homers and six RBIs in five games since coming off the disabled list.

Jayson Werth has hit .391 in that same span, while Denard Span is batting .370 in his last 10. Span is the only Nationals regular to have faced Darvish, going 3 for 4 with two doubles.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA in six interleague starts.

"True aces have really good pitches, and Darvish is one of the best at it," manager Matt Williams told the Nationals' official website. "(He has) a number of different pitches moving in a number of different ways and a 97-mph fastball when he wants it. But we are in control at the plate as soon as he releases it."

Washington counters with Tanner Roark (3-3, 3.47), who has a 2.45 ERA in his last four starts while holding opponents to a .183 average. He gave up three runs in seven innings of a 3-2 defeat to Miami on Monday.

That marked his second straight loss at Nationals Park, where he had been 5-0. Roark has a 1.19 ERA in 12 career games there and has yielded one run in 19 innings of interleague play.

Roark faces a Rangers offense which has gone six games without a homer and been held to 13 hits in this series, with Alex Rios going 0 for 6 after entering on a 12-game hitting streak.

Texas is closing an 11-game trip looking to avoid suffering a three-game road sweep for the first time since July 26-28 at Cleveland.

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