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Darvish (12 K's) blows away Rays with heater

MLB.com

ST. PETERSBURG -- Yu Darvish was pitching well enough as the All-Star break arrived -- he was named to the American League roster, after all. But the former Cy Young runner-up was still capable of better things and made some adjustments to get there.

Over the break, Darvish tweaked his mechanics slightly to alter his release point. That adjustment paved the way for his aspirations of pitching upstairs to succeed Friday night in the Rangers' 4-3 win over the Rays.

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Yu Darvish was pitching well enough as the All-Star break arrived -- he was named to the American League roster, after all. But the former Cy Young runner-up was still capable of better things and made some adjustments to get there.

Over the break, Darvish tweaked his mechanics slightly to alter his release point. That adjustment paved the way for his aspirations of pitching upstairs to succeed Friday night in the Rangers' 4-3 win over the Rays.

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"He's been using his fastball up and really, really trying to get away from using his offspeed stuff so much, and it's just making him more effective," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "I mean, you saw the strikeouts just pile up."

Over eight innings, Darvish fanned 12 batters, the most for a Rangers pitcher since he struck out 12 Rays last September.

Video: TEX@TB: Watch Darvish's 12 K's in 12 seconds

"And the best thing about it is that [when] he's able to use that fastball like that, it's just going to make his offspeed stuff even better," Lucroy said. "Because they're going to have to get ready for that heater, for that fastball, and when we throw a curveball or slider or something, they're not going to have a chance."

Not that there was much of a need for those offspeed pitches Friday. Darvish generated 18 swinging strikes on his fastball alone, tied with Robbie Ray for the most in a game by any fastball in the Majors this year. The 28 overall swings-and-misses was a career-best and second this year to only Max Scherzer's 30 against the Marlins.

The shift in approach seemingly came on a whim from Darvish.

"Just something that he's been wanting to do lately," Lucroy said. Darvish said he could tell that the new method was working while on the mound Friday.

"I recognized that my velocity was a little bit up," Darvish said through a translator. "I think it's because of making a little adjustment with the release, and then also the way I work out. After the All-Star break, it's coming out as a result."

There were some hiccups, as Darvish gave up three solo home runs. The Rays are a strong low-ball hitting team and the pitches they hit out did not cross the zone as high as Darvish intended.

Still, "our guy tonight was pretty special," manager Jeff Banister said.

Banister said he knows "he gave up the three home runs," but the righty was committed to attacking the zone, as 78 of 101 pitches went for strikes. Despite the homers, Darvish stuck to the gameplan of challenging hitters at the top of the zone.

"Loved the way that he pitched up and in tonight," Banister said.

If the mechanics stick and the results from Friday become a habit, opponents will be facing a version of Darvish seen consistently before his 2015 Tommy John surgery -- now equipped with a deceptive release point and nasty rising fastball.

"He's hiding the ball well," Lucroy said. "Whenever his fastball's going up, I don't care who's hitting. Good luck getting to it."

Connor Mount is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg who covered the Rangers on Friday.

Texas Rangers, Yu Darvish