SURPRISE, Ariz. — Yu Darvish was sitting in front of his locker Friday morning in the Texas Rangers clubhouse when Geovany Soto stopped to talk to him.
"That's good English," pitcher Derek Holland said to Darvish from a table nearby, in between bites of his breakfast.
"I've been working with him," Soto said.
All three of them laughed.
"He's opened up a lot more this year," Soto said later about Darvish, who the Rangers brought to the U.S. from Japan before last season, ponying up close to $108 million to sign the two-time MVP of the Pacific League.
"No doubt, his English has gotten lot better," said Soto, who caught most of Darvish's games in 2012. "Half the time he still doesn't know what we're saying and half the time we don't know what he's saying, but we help him out, he helps us out. It's all joking around, making him feel comfortable."
Year two of Yu hasn't been the circus that 2012 was. There were as many as 150 media members with the Rangers on a given day in spring camp a year ago. Reporters would be waiting for Darvish when he arrived in the morning.
On Friday, there were three Japanese reporters. There will be more Saturday, when Darvish starts for the Rangers, looking to continue his strong spring. He's pitched 8 2/3 innings, striking out 10 and giving up only one run. Last season, he was 16-9, with 221 strikeouts (fifth in the American League). There were rocky moments for Darvish, but he won five of his last eight starts.
Comfortable is a word that comes up a lot when you talk to people in the Rangers clubhouse about Darvish.
"All you gotta do is watch his body language, watch the way he goes about his business," said manager Ron Washington. "You don't have that entourage following him around. He's able to move from field to field, be a part of his teammates — not that he wasn't a part of his teammates last year — but the entourage show made it tough.
"Now he's one of the guys."
Part of that is being able to communicate better with his teammates. Darvish already spoke some English before last season, and grew up with parents who knew English.
This season, Kenji Nimura — the Rangers' new interpreter, who previously worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees — says Darvish doesn't need his help too much.
Nimura said Darvish is able to communicate better than most Japanese players who come to the U.S. When he does need help, it's not with his teammates, but with the media or with coaches, who want to make absolutely sure Darvish understands.
"To come from where he was," said fellow starting pitcher Holland, "to come here and start speaking English, which is hard enough as it is — even I can't speak it good enough — he's doing good. He says some random funny things and it makes us all laugh."
Ask Soto, though, and he'll tell you that the cultural differences aren't just a reason to laugh. A bond develops from learning to understand each other.
"A good relationship has to get built up," Soto said. "So when we're on the field, each and every one of us has confidence in each other."
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
You can bet the Texas Rangers would like nothing more than to see a Yu Darvish in 2013 that is confident, comfortable — oh, and here's one c-word — commanding.
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