Darvish out to give LA 2-1 lead vs. familiar foe

After finding renewed success following trade, righty faces Astros in WS debut

October 25th, 2017

HOUSTON -- Days from now, will be ready to turn his attention to the future, where intrigue abounds regarding where the free-agent-to-be will land and how sizable a contract he'll command.

But more immediate aspirations rest on the shoulders of the rejuvenated right-hander in this moment. With an even World Series pivoting to Houston for Game 3, Darvish will draw tonight's start against an Astros team that stunned the Dodgers in a come-from-behind victory Wednesday.

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"Yu's had a lot of experiences, and he's prepared for this moment," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I know he's excited for this moment. We expect him to pitch well."

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Years of pitching in the American League West leaves little unknown as Darvish prepares for an Astros offense that broke out for seven runs on 14 hits in Game 2. However, not everything about Darvish may seem so familiar to the Astros.

After finalizing a deal to acquire Darvish minutes before the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31, the Dodgers greeted him with suggestions. Over the next two months, Darvish listened and adapted, tweaking his arm slot, simplifying his pitch mix and finding a repeatable delivery.

Darvish found renewed success amid it all. After posting a 4.01 ERA in 22 starts with the Rangers, Darvish saw his results improve with the Dodgers. He finished particularly strong, allowing one earned run over 19 1/3 innings in his final three regular-season starts.

"I think that even when he came over, there was a lot of him trying to feel his way through a start, where now he can just worry about executing pitches," Roberts said. "So outside of going into kind of how we're going to attack these guys, I think that he's in a great place. And he says it himself, that he's very comfortable and confident."

It also makes him perhaps less recognizable to the Astros than the matchup history would suggest.

"To them I'm a different kind of pitcher, different type of pitcher in my pitch selection," Darvish, speaking through a translator, said on Thursday. "So they feel I may have a different approach."

The Astros most recently faced Darvish in June, when he opposed them twice within a 10-day span. That second meeting came at Minute Maid Park, where Darvish allowed one run on one hit over seven innings.

"He's got 15 pitches you have to deal with, from different angles, and he can reach back and have velocity," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "For us, having familiarity will help a little bit, but when you get to Game 3 of the World Series, the competition will be at a unique level. And we'll see how he adjusts or do we adjust."

Over his career, Darvish is 4-1 with a 2.16 ERA in six starts at the ballpark. In five of those six outings, Darvish finished at least seven innings.

"It's better to know that I've pitched here before, but tomorrow's game, it could be totally different from my previous outings here," Darvish said Thursday. "Maybe it will give me a little bit of an advantage, but it really doesn't matter."

Seemingly of more significance is the way in which Darvish has pitched leading into his first World Series appearance. He led the Dodgers to wins in his two previous postseason starts while surrendering two runs on eight hits and striking out 14 in 11 1/3 innings.

Darvish also unexpectedly offered one of the club's offensive surprises by drawing a bases-loaded walk that helped turn Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. Though he won't be taking an at-bat on Friday, Darvish will help dictate what sets up as a swing game in this Series.

Clubs that have taken a 2-1 World Series advantage have gone on to win the championship 57 of 88 times.

"Every player has a different thing that drives them -- fame, fortune, individual success," Roberts said. "I think it's just he wants to win a championship. … And I think that he has complete clarity on what he wants to do and how he feels mechanically. So now he's sort of on autopilot, just trying to do whatever it takes to win a championship."