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TEX@TOR: Encarnacion cuts lead in half with solo shot

TORONTO -- The Yu Darvish road show rolled into Rogers Centre on Monday night, and after everything was all said and done, most of the Blue Jays were left shaking their heads.

The Japanese sensation -- that many people felt would end up in Toronto -- proved why he had been such a highly coveted commodity during the offseason by tossing seven innings of dominating work.

Kyle Drabek had one of the best starts of his young career, but was still no match for Darvish as the Blue Jays amassed a total of four hits in a 4-1 loss to the Rangers.

"You try to watch film, you try to read the scouting reports, you try to be as prepared as you can, but once you get in, it becomes all about timing," Blue Jays second baseman Kelly Johnson said.

"Seeing what kind of rhythm he had, he went the whole game through the stretch, that could play a part sometimes, but other than that it's just like anyone else you haven't seen. You're going to want to feel it. He's tough, he's got good stuff."

Darvish, who was making his fifth career start, limited the Blue Jays' offense with an overpowering arsenal of pitches that varied in speed from 69 to 95 mph. He allowed just one run on four hits while walking two and striking out nine.

Toronto did its homework on Darvish prior to his debut north of the border, but most of that was based on a limited workload. Darvish entered the game having thrown just 26 innings in the Major Leagues, so the hard evidence was just as small as the sample size.

Most of the Blue Jays hitters didn't know exactly what to expect and spent the first few innings trying to get a better understanding for his stuff. Johnson, who went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, was still trying to figure out what went wrong after the game.

"There's no question you can definitely go back and watch some games and I know ... he was throwing a lot of pitches," Johnson said. "Is he going to continue that trend or is he going to get more aggressive with the fastball?

"All these things you don't really know and you need to take some time to size it up and get a feel. I felt like he was on, he threw at least more than one pitch effectively and that's pretty good."

The only real mistake made by Darvish occurred in the fourth inning when Edwin Encarnacion recorded the Blue Jays' first hit with a home run to left-center field. Encarnacion's fourth in as many games was his eighth of the year and marked the first homer surrendered by Darvish at the big league level.

Encarnacion, who has eight RBIs in his past five games, has been one of the breakout performers in the American League this season. He entered Monday's game tied for the lead in extra-base hits (15), second in total bases (56), tied for third in RBIs (20) and tied for fifth in doubles (eight).

Darvish quickly put that mistake in his rear-view mirror and went back to work. He continued on without incident and has now allowed three earned runs in his past 31 innings and has surrendered one run or less in each of his past four outings.

"I'm very aware that all these hitters, the teams that are facing me, they are seeing me for the first time," Darvish said through an interpreter when asked about the early success. "It's only April. So I'm not thinking about how I did this month. Right now all I'm thinking about is preparing well for the next one."

Drabek encountered some difficulty in the second as Adrian Belte and Nelson Cruz both doubled for the game's first run. The following frame, Elvis Andrus drove in another run on a double, but after that Drabek settled down and began matching Darvish pitch for pitch.

The 24-year-old struck out five consecutive batters between the fourth and fifth innings en route to a career-high total of eight.

Drabek has now surrendered two runs or less in each of his five starts this season. Despite the strong numbers, he hasn't won since April 15 and has received a total of just six runs from Toronto's offense in the past three starts.

"I thought I was able to command my fastball a lot better than the last two outings and I had my cutter working, that was probably my best pitch for me," said Drabek, who allowed two runs on five hits. "Some hard-hit balls, but I'm happy with where my fastball command was at."

Drabek got stronger as the game went on, but by the time the sixth had ended he was already at 104 pitches. If this was later in the season Blue Jays manager John Farrell likely would have brought him out for another frame, but because it's still in the first month, Toronto's manager didn't want to take any chances.

Farrell opted for left-handed reliever Evan Crawford, who promptly surrendered back-to-back home runs to Mitch Moreland and Craig Gentry to put the game out of reach.

The Blue Jays have now lost five of their past seven while Texas avoided losing back-to-back regular-season games for the first time since late August of last year.

Toronto likely will get a free pass for being one of four teams that have already experienced Darvish's wrath this season, but the fact still remains the club hasn't clicked offensively for an extended period of time. Johnson's well aware of those struggles and knows his team is going to need to pick things up in the near future.

"We knew he had good stuff, you've got to tip your cap," Johnson said of Darvish. "At the same time we've got to get better, we've got to hit the ball, we've got to have better at-bats and we need to get guys on base." Comments