On August 1st, Yu Darvish faced the Los Angeles Angels, and gave up seven runs, struggling to last through five innings. He walked six Angels batters in that game, tying a season-high mark that he has hit three times. On August 6th, in his next start, Darvish started against the Boston Red Sox, and was again roughed up, this time for six runs in 6.2 innings on 11 hits and four walks, inflating his ERA to a season-high 4.57. After that start, manager Ron Washington sat down with Darvish for a one-on-one discussion to check in on Darvish’s current state of mind. When asked how that meeting went, Washington delivered this message:
“He’s finally relaxed and feeling like he can just go out there and be Yu Darvish and not worry about the results. I think we are about to see something special the rest of the way here. I don’t know when it’s going to click in, but it’s going to click in.”
Since that meeting, Darvish has made five starts. In those five starts, he has compiled the following line: 35.2 IP, 20 H, 11 BB, 42 SO, and a 2.52 ERA. The last of those five starts came Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Rays. Darvish pitched eight complete innings for just the fourth time all season, and the first time since June 20th. He held Tampa Bay to two hits and two walks, and just two runs (one unearned), while striking out eight.
There have been two major issues that have plagued Yu Darvish this season. The first is the high volume of walks that he has compiled in 2012. For a significant stretch of time, Darvish was at or near the league leader in walks allowed. Even though he has compiled high strikeout totals and low hit totals, the walks were a major obstacle to his success. Prior to his meeting with Washington, Darvish had finished a game with two walks or less in only five of his twenty-one starts. Since that meeting, he has accomplished that achievement four out of five times.
The second area of concern for Darvish has been when he has faced opponents multiple times. Due to his arsenal of pitches, Darvish has the upper hand when facing a team for the first time, as most pitchers do. However, he has struggled when facing opponents the second, third, or fourth time this season. Entering Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay, Darvish had a 3.13 ERA in 14 starts against teams he was facing for the first time. When facing a team multiple times, his ERA was 5.94 in 11 starts. On August 28th, Darvish faced the Rays for the first time and dominated them for seven innings of shutout baseball. Now, 11 days later, he faced the same team, and was still able to control the game in the same manner he did the first time around.
The turnaround for Darvish has been remarkable, and timely. The Rangers have been the best team in the American League all year, and yet have lacked a pitcher who fits the profile of a starter of a Game 1 of a playoff series. Based on how Darvish has been pitching lately, it would be difficult to slot anyone else in that position at the top of the rotation. He has refined his approach to the game, both in terms of his delivery and his pitch repertoire. Those revisions are paying off in big ways, as a K/BB ratio that had been at 2.05 for the season has been 5.67 in his last four starts.
Now, it seems Darvish has cleared his obstacles. His walk totals are way down, and the teams that faced Darvish prior to four weeks ago won’t be seeing the same pitcher when they face him again. The pure stuff that Darvish has shown has been among the most unhittable in baseball all year, and now he is finally showing that he can harness it. That concentrated, focused combination of power and finesse is beginning to terrorize opponents, just as the Texas Rangers expected him to all along.
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