ANAHEIM -- The Rangers settled this one early. They did so by responding to an unusually quick 1-2-3 first inning from starter Yu Darvish.That has often been Darvish's trouble spot. But on Saturday afternoon at Angel Stadium, Darvish had his best fastball right from the beginning and used it to pitch the Rangers to a 9-2 victory over the Angels on national television. Manager Ron Washington said leading up to the game that he wanted Darvish to regain the command of his fastball. That's exactly what happened, and it happened right away when the Rangers needed it. Michael Young's RBI single gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, and Darvish set down the side in order in the bottom of the inning. As a reward for his efficiency, the Rangers responded with five runs in the second against Angels starter Ervin Santana to take a 6-0 lead. "That first inning, we scored, and in a very good way," Darvish said. "Some of the problems I've had have been when I was in the first inning. I paid close attention to pitching well in the first inning today." "It was big ... huge," Washington said. "When you put up a run like that, you want your pitcher to put up a zero, and Yu was able to come back and get some outs. That set the tone for us." The Rangers ended up breaking out with five home runs, including two by designated hitter Mike Napoli, and scored their most runs in a game since a 13-9 victory over the Tigers on June 27. This was also the third time they've hit at least five home runs in a game and the first since May 5 against the Orioles. The Rangers, who lost, 6-1, to the Angels on Friday night, are back to a six-game lead in the American League West. "We needed to come out and show some fire and put up some runs early," Napoli said. "Yu pitched well. We had a good effort today." Darvish only needed 12 pitches to get through the first inning, and 10 of them were fastballs. "The fastball felt really good today," Darvish said. "He was throwing it by hitters," catcher Yorvit Torrealba said. "His fastball looked so good, we stayed with it. When he can locate his fastball, he can be as good as anybody in the game." Angels outfielder Mark Trumbo said Darvish's fastball was his best pitch on Saturday afternoon. "He has a really nasty slider, too, but his fastball moves to the point where it's really tough to judge where it's going to end up a lot of the time," Trumbo said. Once Darvish got through with the Angels in the first, the Rangers went to work on Santana. Napoli led off with a home run to right field, and Torrealba came back with his third home run of the season to left field. It was the sixth time this season the Rangers have hit back-to-back home runs. They followed that with back-to-back doubles by Craig Gentry and Ian Kinsler that made it 4-0. Santana retired Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton on grounders, but Adrian Beltre ended Santana's quick afternoon with a two-run home run. The Rangers are now 22-5 on the season when they hit two or more home runs in a game. "We needed to get off to a good start today, and we did," Washington said. Saturday's first inning was actually one of Darvish's best. He went seven and only had one other 1-2-3 inning. He allowed three hits, walked four and tied his career high with 11 strikeouts, while raising his record to 11-6 with a 3.88 ERA on the season. He is 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three start against the Angels. "I didn't think he was as crisp today as he had been the other two starts, but he got it done," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think he was more erratic today in some areas, but found a way to get through seven and obviously pitched a good game. I think he was behind a lot of counts, but like any good pitcher, they find a way to get back in the zone when they have to, and he did. Give him credit." This is the sixth time this season that Darvish has struck out 10 or more batters in a game, a new club record for a rookie. He is one of five Major League pitchers in history with at least six 10-plus strikeout games in his first 18 career starts. Hideo Nomo had eight, Dwight Gooden had seven and Mark Prior and Kerry Wood each had six. "The strikeouts, I don't think about," Darvish said. "Some days I'll be in a situation where I've got two strikes and I might go for the strikeouts, or I might go for the ground ball. Some games I have an idea of how many strikeouts I have, and some days I don't. I really don't pay attention to that." He was paying attention to his first-inning problems, and he solved them on Saturday. The Rangers rewarded him for it.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.