Darvish dazzles in debut after rigorous offseason regimen

March 22nd, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Despite the strange nature of the offseason, despite all the rehab from a nagging hip ailment, despite the mechanical tweaks he made to combat those injury concerns, Yu Darvish says he's right where he needs to be.

And after his performance Monday in his first Cactus League outing of 2022, who could argue?

Darvish pitched three scoreless innings in the Padres’ 8-4 loss to the Rockies on Monday afternoon at Peoria Stadium. He struck out six with a dizzying blend of breaking pitches.

The right-hander allowed three hits, but two of those came on a pair of defensive miscues -- a poor route by Wil Myers in right field and a double clutch by Ha-Seong Kim on a grounder to short. Darvish did not issue a walk.

"I feel like I'm set to be able to get to where I want to be, come Opening Day," Darvish said.

That's no small achievement for a starting pitcher in 2022, after an offseason of lockout-induced uncertainty and an abbreviated Spring Training.

Darvish, diligent as ever, stuck to his usual rigorous regimen. He began throwing in January, as he always does. In late January, he started facing hitters and resolved to enter camp with a baseline of two innings, without knowing when camp would start.

"I just wanted to be prepared, for the most part," Darvish said. "I did have in mind that the lockout might be extended a little bit. But I just wanted to be prepared once we got going."

Seems prepared, all right. Darvish pitched two live innings on a back field in his first throwing session of camp last week. On Monday, he became the first Padres starter to hit the three-inning mark.

A stretched-out Darvish could be huge for a Padres pitching staff with question marks elsewhere. Mike Clevinger is returning after missing the 2021 season because of Tommy John surgery. He'll pitch in a Minor League game on Wednesday but won't make his Cactus League debut until next week. When the season begins, Clevinger almost certainly will have restrictions in place.

Blake Snell, meanwhile, is unlikely to be fully built up for Opening Day, meaning his first few starts could be of the abbreviated variety. As such, it's imperative that the Padres have a few starters who can carry the early workload. Darvish -- who threw 46 pitches on Monday -- appears willing and able.

"You're talking about [46] pitches, and it looked like he had a lot left in him, too," manager Bob Melvin said. "That's just conditioning from before he got here. You can push him a little bit further the next time, then he'll have one more start before [the season]. Great shape, as far as he goes."

It's welcome news, after Darvish missed two separate chunks of last season while battling a hip ailment. That injury caused Darvish to compensate elsewhere, which led to back and groin tightness as the season wore on.

Darvish made some mechanical tweaks during the offseason, which he believes will allow a freer range of motion. He expects the hip soreness to linger a bit after starts. But the effects, he said, shouldn't be nearly as bad.

"It's really hard to get it to full 100%, per se," Darvish said. "But I feel like I'm really able to manage it better."

So far, so good.

In addition to Darvish's six strikeouts, he was quick to cover the plate on a ball in the dirt with a man on third base in the top of the first inning. After getting a feed from catcher Victor Caratini, Darvish fired to third base to nab Colorado's Garrett Hampson, who had strayed too far from the bag.

"He was efficient in his pitches and threw all his pitches, worked around some plays out behind him, made a great play obviously at the plate, throwing a guy out at third," Melvin said. "He did it all today. Good start for him."