A Tale of Two Starts for Yu Darvish

In his first year in Major League Baseball, Yu Darvish has been a mystery wrapped in an enigma. He has flashed a scintillating arsenal capable of missing big league bats with ease, at times demonstrating his capability of being an Ace for the Texas Rangers. At other times, he has struggled with command, missing the zone, and then failing to miss bats. To emphasize that point, Darvish is generating 9.74 strikeouts per 9 innings, but is also walking 4.97 per 9 innings. He is yet to have a start with less than two walks. In Wednesday’s start, we saw both the Hyde and the Jekyll of Darvish.

It is important to note that this game was played against the San Diego Padres (arguably the worst team in baseball) in PETCO Park (arguably the most pitcher-friendly park in baseball). On paper, Darvish should have dominated the Padres from pitch number one. That’s not exactly the way it turned out.

Here is Darvish’s stat line from the first four innings of play: 4 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 3 K. He filled up the stat sheet, and not in the best way. He didn’t attack hitters, nibbled, got in trouble, gave up a 2-run single to the opposing pitcher, and more. It took Darvish 75 pitches to finish the first four innings, of which just 47 were strikes. With a pitching staff and bullpen that has been hampered by injuries, it was looking as if the Rangers would be lucky to get the minimum quality start from Darvish (6 IP, 3 runs or less).

Then, in the 5th inning, a switch was flipped. All of a sudden, Darvish began pitching the way it appeared he should have been pitching all along. From the 5th inning on, he faced the minimum number of Padres hitters. The only two baserunners (a reached on error and a hit) were eliminated via a caught stealing and a double play. After the 7th inning, Darvish sat at 112 pitches and appeared done for the night. However, whether his decision or Ron Washington’s, Darvish came back out for the 8th inning and fired a perfect 10-pitch, 2-strikeout frame. It took Darvish just 46 pitches (34 strikes) to work the last four innings of his outing. His stat line of those four innings: 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K.

Included in those last four dominant innings were some of Darvish’s specialties: video game type of movement on his pitches. In the first four innings, it looked like Darvish didn’t even know where the ball was going. He went from this kind of pitching to the other team’s pitcher:

To this kind of dominance in a strikeout of Everth Cabrera:

And this strikeout of Cameron Maybin:

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I don’t think I can do much more. Darvish can tap into an elite level that few can dream of, but he’s struggling to do so consistently right now. He was like two completely different pitchers in just this one start. However, for four innings on Wednesday, he worked at that upper echelon, and it was fun to watch.

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