ARLINGTON, Tex. - During one of his many stops in professional baseball, Pete Mackanin was scouting for the New York Yankees a decade ago when he traveled to Japan to put some eyes on a phenom named Yu Darvish.
"You should inquire about this guy," Mackanin wrote in his report back to his bosses.
Darvish ended up signing with the Texas Rangers before the 2012 season - he'll be a free agent after this season, so the Yankees still have hope - and on Tuesday night Mackanin got a painful reminder of just how good the right-hander from Japan is.
Facing the Phillies for the first time, Darvish pitched seven innings of four-hit ball in leading his team to a 5-1 win over the Phillies in an interleague game at Globe Life Park (see Instant Replay). The tall right-hander allowed just one run, walked two and struck out nine. The Phils, who have lost 13 of their last 16 games, managed just two hits against him in the first six innings and one was a bloop double by Maikel Franco.
A man of many weapons, Darvish showed a fastball up to 98 mph, but it was the slider that impressed Mackanin.
"He's got probably - arguably - the best slider in baseball, in my opinion," Mackanin said. "When that's the first time a team sees him, it's got to be tough, especially the way he located it. He just changed speeds, had a good fastball, located that slider. It's a tough pitch to hit, even when you've see him before. But when a team like us hasn't see him before, it can be tough. That's all I can say about that."
Mackanin said the best way to prepare for Darvish is "hope he hangs one and makes a mistake."
Darvish, 4-2 with a 2.76 ERA, never did that.
He got in one bit of trouble in the seventh inning when the Phillies rallied for a couple of hits, a walk and a run, but he minimized the damage by striking out Brock Stassi on a curveball with runners on first and third in a two-run game.
"He had command of every pitch he throws," said Tommy Joseph, who led off that seventh inning with a single against Darvish. "He kept us off-balance."
The Phillies are catching the Rangers at a bad time. They have won seven in a row.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are a troubling 6-14 on the road and 14-22 overall.
Amidst the darkness, there was a bright spot on Tuesday night. Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff, an important part of the rotation that the Phillies are trying to build, bounced back after three poor starts and gave his club a quality start. He went six innings and allowed seven hits and three runs, one of which was unearned after an errant pickoff throw by catcher Cameron Rupp. Eickhoff walked two and struck out eight.
"He looked closer to himself than he did the last few starts," Mackanin said.
Eickhoff and pitching coaches Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz noticed a mechanical flaw after the pitcher's last start. Basically, he was collapsing his back side too much in his delivery. He stayed taller on the mound in this game and had better results with everything from stuff to command.
"I obviously made a couple of mistakes," Eickhoff said. "But for 90 percent of things, I think I was executing pitches back to where I needed to be."
Eickhoff gave up a first-inning homer to Nomar Mazara, a former minor-league teammate. He allowed a two-out RBI double to Jonathan Lucroy in the fifth after attempting to pick off Delino DeShields nine times over the span of three batters.
Eickhoff's outing marked just the 15th time in 36 games that a Phillies' starter went at least six innings. Mark Leiter Jr. pitched a scoreless seventh then gave up a two-run homer to Mike Napoli in the eighth as the Rangers put it away.
Despite the loss, the start carried some personal significance to Eickhoff. He was selected by the Rangers in the 15th round of the 2011 draft and spent five seasons in their system, eventually rising to Triple A, before being traded to the Phillies in the Cole Hamels deal (more on Hamels here).
As a Rangers' farmhand, he dreamed of pitching in this ballpark.
The dream finally came true Tuesday night, just with a different team.
"It definitely wasn't just another start," he said. "Just walking through here, it was a pretty emotional experience. I never got to pitch out there for these guys."
It was not lost on Eickhoff that it was six years ago this month that he did throw off the mound in Globe Life Stadium in a pre-draft workout. Rangers legend Nolan Ryan was on hand for the workout, arms crossed behind the batting cage.
So finally getting on the mound in Texas for a game "was definitely a very special thing for me," Eickhoff said. "I owe a lot to the people in that organization. The stuff they did for me … I'm just very humbled and appreciative of that."