Darvish returns as Classic champ, but with schedule in flux

After 'beautiful' but limited experience with Japan, righty has work to do as season nears

March 23rd, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It took several minutes Thursday morning to make it from one end of the Padres' clubhouse to his locker on the other side.

He entered the room -- there was Manny Machado, ready to greet him with a congratulatory hug. He took a step toward his locker -- there was Nick Martinez, ready to do the same. Then Jake Cronenworth. Then, more or less, the Padres' entire 40-man roster.

That'll happen when you're one of the team's most beloved players, a World Baseball Classic champion arriving in Peoria for the first time this spring.

"All in all," said Darvish, two days after he’d secured a hold in Japan's epic championship-game victory over Team USA, "it was a great experience."

Darvish was clearly moved by the opportunity he was afforded over the past month. Rather than report to camp with the Padres, he spent most of February training in Japan with the national team. He spoke glowingly of the young pitchers on staff and his level of enjoyment working with them.

Darvish's stint at the Classic, however, creates a conundrum for the Padres. He only appeared in three games, tossing six innings across the entire tournament. On top of that, Darvish twice pitched in relief, including the eighth inning of Tuesday's final.

Those appearances were somewhat off-script. After the first of those relief outings against Italy, he retreated to the bullpen to throw more pitches. But Darvish acknowledged Thursday that he's still not quite built up to where he'd prefer to be.

"It's a little bit concerning," Darvish said through a team interpreter. "Just because it was a unique sort of Spring Training. ... Team Japan was trying to win the whole thing, and because of those reasons, I wasn't able to build up as I would if you're in a regular Spring Training. So there is a little bit of concern there."

The Padres knew this was a possibility. They'd have preferred a different sort of progression for Darvish. They're also content to make adjustments.

"Look, once you embrace the fact that they're there pitching for their country, you have to understand that there's probably going to be some issues that you can't control, and it might affect things early on," Padres manager Bob Melvin said earlier this month.

Sure enough, the Padres' plans appear to have changed. When Joe Musgrove fractured his left big toe in February, Darvish seemed the obvious choice for Opening Day. Heck, he might’ve been the Opening Day starter anyway.


"Opening Day is going to be tough," Melvin said, though he wouldn't go so far as to rule it out.

Still, the Padres -- and Darvish -- would prefer that he get a full start in a Cactus League game this spring. That might better line him up to start the team's second or third game of the season.

Nonetheless, the Padres don't expect Darvish to be set back all that much. He was nearly fully built up prior to the World Baseball Classic, often throwing bullpen sessions of 70-80 pitches.

Darvish said he would prefer to throw four innings in his first Cactus League outing, whenever that may be. He’ll figure out his next step after that.

"I can't overthink this at this point in time," Darvish said. "We'll see how I feel as we move along. Let's just see how I feel. ... I'm trying to get back to what I usually do, see how I feel and just proceed from there."

Darvish's Cactus League debut would also mark his first start with a pitch timer. One of the Padres’ slowest workers last season, Darvish has been throwing timed bullpens since January to ensure he’s fully acclimated. He doesn't think the clock will be an issue, noting, "We still have some time before the season starts. I'll make my adjustment, and we should be fine."

Presuming all goes well in Darvish's first Cactus League outing, he'd almost certainly be available for a start in the first trip through the rotation. If that's a day or two after Opening Day, so be it.

A small price to pay for a once-in-a-lifetime baseball experience.

Well, twice-in-a-lifetime for Darvish, who was a 23-year-old when he won the 2009 World Baseball Classic with Team Japan.

"The role for me was a little bit different this time around, just being the oldest on the team and all that," Darvish said. "But both experiences -- they were both beautiful."