HOUSTON -- Sometimes, it seems Yu Darvish is just toying with hitters. How about a fastball, Yu? Yeah, sure, here's a 96 mph on the corner.

Slider? Yeah, he has one of those, too. It's 86 mph and has the kind of movement that buckles knees and breaks bats.

Curveball? Child, please. It's big and hard and pretty much impossible to hit.

And that's the beginning.

He can change speeds on all his pitches, and sometimes, he has the ability to throw them wherever he wants them. He'll cut the fastball, and just for grins, throw the occasional split-finger heater.

The thing is, almost no one believed he was going to be this good. Don't pay any attention to what they say now. Sure, the scouts who saw him thought he'd be successful, thought he might even help the Texas Rangers win a World Series championship.

He had size and a big arm, poise and experience. In terms of the things scouts look for when evaluating pitching, he had everything. But plenty of the reports went beyond the basics.

They spoke of his having six or seven above-average pitches, of him throwing all of them, of it being impossible for opposing hitters to sit on just one thing. That a catcher would have to have signs for six or seven -- or more -- pitches just didn't seem believable.

Yet, that's where we are. He is absolutely that good, and he reminded us all of that on Monday afternoon at Minute Maid Park when he no-hit the Astros for 7 1/3 innings before allowing a Carlos Corporan home run.

He departed after eight innings, allowing just the one hit, walking one and striking out 15 in Texas' 2-1 victory. He leads the Major Leagues with 207 strikeouts and nine double-digit strikeout games.

Since he arrived at the beginning of the last season, he has 17 games of at least 10 strikeouts. No one else is even close. Chris Sale and Max Scherzer have the second most at nine apiece during that span.

Darvish no-hit the Astros for 8 2/3 innings in the first week of the regular season. In that one, his cut fastball was his dominant pitch. In this one, he threw a season-high 57 sliders (of 115 total pitches), hurled lots of curveballs, too, and even mixed in a couple of splitters.

When it ended with the Rangers winning, his manager and teammates expressed disappointment that he'd missed again on getting his first career no-hitter. But they marveled at his overall stuff, at his control and velocity and all that stuff.

At a time when the Rangers are playing their best baseball of the season, having won 13 out of 14 to regain first place in the American League West, their hope for a nice October run is their rotation. And that rotation begins with Darvish.

"He used everything: curveball, cutter, fastball," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "When they were looking for breaking balls, he was throwing fastballs and cutters. When they were looking for fastballs and cutters, he was throwing breaking balls."

In the home clubhouse at Minute Maid Park, the young Astros simply had no chance. They said it's one thing to throw hard and another thing to have a big assortment of pitches.

But when the pitcher is so confident in his stuff that he'll throw a full-count curveball or a 3-1 slider, that adds a layer of uncertainty to a hitter's approach.

"He'll throw any pitch in any count, and he throws it for strikes," Astros second baseman Jake Elmore said. "It doesn't matter if it's 3-2 bases loaded and no outs, he'll throw the slider for a strike. He doesn't have to throw a fastball in a fastball situation, so you can't really sit on much. Everything moves, too, so he's the exception to many rules. He's a great pitcher."

From the beginning, his teammates could tell he was at his best, and as the game wore on, they began to avoid him between innings. Darvish lost the perfect game on a walk to rookie Jonathan Villar in the sixth, but the 26-year-old had the no-hitter until the Corporan home run in the eighth.

"We know Yu," Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We know he picks his pitches that day. Whatever he feels like, he throws. He can dominate the whole game. That's what's so special about him. He throws about six different pitches. He goes for whatever's working that day."