Yu Darvish Strikes Out 9 Blue Jays in Commanding Fashion
“Expanding the strike zone” is an expression often used in baseball. It doesn’t make much sense on its own, as the strike zone should be a static, albeit arbitrary, area that should never move. The application of this expression is a very real thing, however. Monday night, Yu Darvish put on a clinic of what it means to expand the strike zone, leading the Texas Rangers to a 4-1 victory to improve the team’s record to a stunning 17-6.
Darvish put on his second stellar pitching performance in a row, going 7 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays, allowing 4 hits, 1 run, and 2 walks, while striking out 9. The incredible part is that all 9 of those strikeouts were swing-and-miss strikeouts. Darvish made a professional hitter miss, and in many cases, miss badly 9 separate times tonight.
How did Darvish do it? He expanded the strike zone. By throwing strikes early in the count (first pitch strikes to 19 of 27 batters faced), Darvish kept the Blue Jays hitters off balance and forced them to chase pitches late in the count. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus tweeted early in the game, “As long as Darvish can keep the advantage of sequence by spotting that FB early, he’s going to carve up hitters with the secondary stuff.” Darvish proceeded to do exactly that.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is 9,000 words worth of sweet strikeout goodness coming at you.
Strikeout #1 - Victim: Yunel Escobar. Pitch: 83-mph slider.
Strikeout #2 - Victim: Kelly Johnson. Pitch: 80-mph slider.
Strikeout #3 - Victim: Brett Lawrie. Pitch: 84-mph slider.
Strikeout #4 - Victim: Colby Rasmus. Pitch: 79-mph curveball.
Strikeout #5 - Victim: J.P. Arencibia. Pitch: 82-mph slider.
Strikeout #6 - Victim: Kelly Johnson. Pitch: 89-mph cutter (cut fastball).
Strikeout #7 - Victim: Jose Bautista. Pitch: 87-mph cutter.
Strikeout #8 - Victim: Yunel Escobar. Pitch: 90-mph cutter.
Strikeout #9 - Victim: Colby Rasmus. Pitch: 81-mph curveball.
The final tally is 4 sliders, 3 cutters, and 2 curveballs. Darvish only induced 5 more swings-and-misses besides these 9 the rest of the night. Those remaining 5 were 1 slider, 2 cutters, 1 four-seam fastball, and 1 splitter.
As you can see from these images, every strikeout was a pitch somewhere between borderline strike and nowhere near the zone. By working ahead in the count, Darvish was able to make his pitches deep in the count, and make the Blue Jays hitters look foolish. This is a recipe for success that Darvish can follow the rest of his days as a MLB pitcher. That, dear friends, is pitching.
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