Darvish a great fit at perfect time for Dodgers

New acquisition steps up with Kershaw sidelined

August 11th, 2017

PHOENIX -- It's nice to be manager of the Dodgers. When you have a need and the resources, upper management goes out and fills it.

Such was the case when went on the disabled list with a lower back strain on July 24. A week later, the Dodgers obtained from the Rangers for three Minor Leaguers just prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

In doing so, the boys from Guggenheim Partners, the group that owns the club, added another $5 million to their already Major League-high $241 million payroll.

It's good to be Dave Roberts, the Dodgers' manager, when you can add an ace to another ace and a starting rotation that leads the Majors with a 3.14 ERA.

President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers' baseball ops crew made it look easy.

"I don't know if it was easy to get a Yu Darvish," Roberts said on Thursday night as the Dodgers notched their 81st win, 8-6, over the D-backs at Chase Field. "But we did get him."

Darvish lookalike watches start in Arizona

Kershaw won't be back until September, but in the meantime, Darvish is proving an ample replacement. He's made two starts since the deal, winning both, and allowing just two runs on eight hits. On Thursday night, Darvish struggled through five innings, tossing 106 pitches, but he still struck out 10 for the sixth time this season.

Darvish also whiffed 10 in seven shutout innings on Aug. 4, during a 7-0 win over the Mets in New York, his first start with the Dodgers after the trade.

"I struggled to throw first-pitch strikes," Darvish said about his performance against the D-backs. "That made it a battle for me throughout the game."

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are fixated on going to and winning the World Series for the first time since 1988, when they beat the A's in five games. Tommy Lasorda was on his way to being a Hall of Fame manager back then. Kirk Gibson limped off the bench at Dodger Stadium to hit the still epic walk-off pinch-hit homer against Dennis Eckersley that won Game 1.

Orel Hershiser, now an analyst on Dodgers telecasts, was an all-world right-hander, winning 23 games that season and three more in the postseason.

As Vin Scully said when he called the Gibson homer: "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened."

Scully might as well have been talking about the whole season. In 1988, nobody expected the Dodgers to win.

Not so now. The Dodgers are not just expected to win their fifth consecutive National League West title. They lead the division by 16 games with 57 games left to play. But that's just the beginning. They're expected to win it all.

"That's what we want to accomplish, so that's why I'm here," Darvish said. "We still have our regular-season games to play and I want to do my job, but at the same time I know what's at stake."

Like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Giants and Cardinals, the Dodgers go into the season with the goal of winning the World Series. The question then becomes what the best path is to get there.

"It's the process of how we go about acquiring players, understanding the farm system, having a commitment to win right now as well as years going forward," Roberts said. "That's why getting a player like Darvish when Clayton went down, that elite starting pitcher, it doesn't happen that often. It just makes a very good team that much better."

Roberts said that the integration of the Japanese-born Darvish has been seamless. In the five years since the Rangers won his rights with a $51.7 million posting bid and signed him to a six-year, $56 million contract, Darvish has learned to speak English and cultivated a keen sense of humor.

"I feel a lot less stress as the weeks have gone on," said Darvish, whose Dodgers stay could be short since he'll be a free agent at the end of the season. "The guys are making me feel very comfortable. Nobody talks trash. I feel their respect."

On the mound, Darvish attacks hitters with five pitches, constantly varying the pattern. The plan on Thursday night was to attack the zone with his two-seam fastball, but that wasn't working. Darvish's four-seamer, slider and later his curve were, but he was slow to make that adjustment.

"We might have a conversation about that," Roberts said.

If there was any other drawback, Darvish slows to a crawl with runners on base. During an eight-pitch at bat to end the fifth inning, which concluded when took a called third strike, Darvish strolled behind the mound and took 30-40 seconds between each pitch.

Texas manager Jeff Banister often cajoled him about that pace. Roberts right now is just observing.

"Yu is a pleasure," said Roberts, who's also of Japanese descent. "It's been great to watch him have conversations with his teammates, get to know them. And for me personally, getting to know his family, his path, his comfort level. As much he liked Texas, I think he's comfortable here as well."