On a roll, Darvish can lead LA to 3-0 NLCS lead
Righty re-establishing dominance at right time as LA looks to move one win from World Series
LOS ANGELES -- Yu Darvish sure looks like Yu Darvish again.
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For three years, from 2012-14, the towering right-hander established himself as one of the sport's most dominant presences on the mound. During that span, Darvish posted a 3.27 ERA while leading the Majors with 11.22 strikeouts per nine innings.
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It was a bit of a bumpy road back, following Tommy John surgery in March 2015. But the version of Darvish that will start tonight's Game 3 of the National League Championship Series presented by Camping World is starting to garner results like the Darvish of old.
In his last four outings -- including a crisp series-clinching performance against Arizona in the previous round -- Darvish has allowed two earned runs in 24 1/3 innings while striking out 28. Tonight, he faces the Cubs, with Los Angeles looking to take a commanding 3-0 lead on the path to the Fall Classic.
"All I can speak to is right now," said Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts, who noted he hadn't seen much of Darvish with Texas. "In this moment, he's in as good of a place as I think he's ever been."
Good timing, too. Even though Darvish made nine regular-season starts, the Dodgers willingly admit they acquired Darvish because of the boost he would bring the October rotation. His presence gives Los Angeles something it hasn't had during its run of five consecutive division titles: serious depth behind Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers sacrificed three prospects to acquire Darvish in the final hour before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Through one postseason start, Darvish has been worth the expense.
Darvish's August struggles have been mostly forgotten. In six starts after his arrival, he posted a 5.34 ERA, while the club asked him to tinker with his mechanics and pitch selection.
Darvish pared down his repertoire to the point where his curveball and changeup are practically nonexistent. (According to Statcast™, he threw just one of each against Arizona.) In turn, he's emphasized his slider and cutter -- two pitches against which opponents are batting .183 with a .282 slugging percentage since he joined the Dodgers.
"I've seen a lot of comments where people are saying I'm getting close to where I was before the surgery," Darvish said. "Really, if you look at me pitching right now, my mechanics and the pitch selection, approach, I'm a different kind of pitcher."
Different pitcher, similar success. Those adjustments appear to have taken Darvish back to 2014 levels. After he missed the '15 season, Darvish's ERA jumped to 3.75 over the next year and a half with Texas.
"Talking to Yu, I think that he feels that he's back to where he was prior to his surgery," Roberts said. "I know that over the course of the last four starts he's thrown the baseball really well. He's comfortable with the information, with his mechanics, with Rick [Honeycutt] as a pitching coach. I know he's comfortable."
Compare that with the only other time Darvish has pitched at Wrigley Field. He had only just come off the disabled list in 2016, and he walked four Cubs in an outing that lasted 90 pitches but just 4 1/3 frames.
On Monday, Darvish said there's almost nothing to glean from that particular start. He was too concerned with his health and his mechanics to properly focus on the game itself. Come tonight, that won't be the case.
"I was uncertain coming off the Tommy John surgery and all that stuff, so it was hard for me to focus on just facing the hitters," Darvish said. "Now that I feel pretty confident with all my physical stuff, and I have a different approach to the hitters, I'm pretty confident."
The way Darvish has pitched lately, so are the Dodgers.