Aoki will face countryman Darvish in spring opener

Aoki will face countryman Darvish in spring opener

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Norichika Aoki leads off the Royals' first inning in their Cactus League opener Thursday, he'll be swinging against his Japanese countryman, Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish.

They have not faced each other in the Major Leagues but Aoki remembers going against Darvish in Japan. How did he do?

"So-so," Aoki said. "He was in a different league so I didn't really face him too much."

Aoki played from 2004-11 for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the Japan Central League; Darvish had a seven-year career with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Pacific League.

"It seems like he's gotten better since he came over here, too," Aoki said.

Darvish has faced the Royals twice in regular-season competition with a 1-0 record and a 1.93 ERA (three runs in 14 innings). Omar Infante, coming over from the Tigers, has had the most success of the Royals regulars against Darvish, with three hits in six at-bats.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.