Darvish earns 2nd straight Opening Day nod

April 1st, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In a deep group of rotation options, it'll be Yu Darvish, for the second consecutive season, taking the ball on Opening Day for the Padres.

Convinced they'll be getting the version of Darvish who dominated during the first half of the 2021 season, the Padres tabbed the ace right-hander for their opener against the D-backs on April 7 at Chase Field.

Darvish, who will be making his third career Opening Day start, becomes the first Padres starter to earn the honor in consecutive seasons since Edinson Vólquez did so in 2012 and '13. 

"That's not a difficult call," said Padres manager Bob Melvin. "The difficult part is what Joe [Musgrove] accomplished last year, too. But I'm hoping there's a good reward for him as we go along, as well."

Melvin had noted earlier in camp that Darvish and Musgrove were the two candidates to start for the Padres on Opening Day. They're both expected to be fully built up for a normal starter's workload, even with an abbreviated spring.

To that end, Melvin did not set any rotation plans beyond Game 1. It's entirely possible that Musgrove will be pushed to the third spot in the rotation, allowing the Padres to spread out the innings from their fully built-up arms. That would leave open the possibility for that "reward" Melvin mentioned, with Musgrove then being lined up for the home opener against Atlanta on April 14. Blake Snell and Mike Clevinger also have rotation spots locked up, with Chris Paddack, Nick Martínez, MacKenzie Gore and Ryan Weathers vying for the final spot or two.

As for Darvish, he's coming off a roller-coaster first year with the Padres. The 35-year-old right-hander posted a 4.22 ERA in 30 starts in 2021. He was excellent during the first half of the season, with a 2.44 ERA through June to earn a spot on the National League All-Star team.

Then, Darvish dealt with right hip trouble that twice landed him on the injured list. In his attempt to pitch through it, he posted a 6.16 ERA in the second half of the season.

Darvish and the Padres are confident that his hip ailment -- which also led to groin and back tightness -- won't linger. He has ever-so-slightly tweaked his delivery to incorporate a more firm landing on his front leg, which prevents his right hip from flying open.

Said Darvish, after his most recent outing: "Our trainers here have a good program in place. I was able to follow that during the offseason, and I was able to get my mechanics in a really good place."

Darvish, who is slated for his final Cactus League outing on Friday against the Royals, has been excellent all spring. He owns a 1.29 ERA and worked four innings in his most recent start, then pitched a simulated fifth inning in the Peoria Stadium bullpen.

For Melvin, who spent years facing off against Darvish as rivals in the AL West, this spring has afforded him a chance to watch Darvish work from up close. He's come away impressed.

"Not only does he know how to pitch and how to compete, he has a great understanding of what he needs to do and how to get better, based on some of the analytics in the game now, too," Melvin said. "He spins the ball very well. He has a great understanding of the concept. He's always looking to get better. If it's possible, he's always looking to add pitches or at least nuance to certain pitches.

"I've found, more than anything else, that he's very, very driven in how he goes about his business."

Worth noting

• Snell, whose progression has been slow this spring, made his first Cactus League start on Thursday after pitching a simulated game last week. It didn't go well. Snell's control was erratic, and he allowed three runs (two earned) on two hits and four walks across 1 1/3 innings in the Padres' 8-2 loss to the D-backs at Salt River Fields. The veteran left-hander threw 45 pitches, only 20 for strikes.

"Not what I wanted, obviously," Snell said. "Overall, I'm pretty frustrated. Throughout spring, I've felt really good. Need to lock it in more, find the zone, be better. I'm not going to kill myself on this. It's my first start. I was really excited, couldn't wait to get out there and was overthrowing. ... I beat myself."

Snell has one more tune-up for the regular season. He’s slated to start on Tuesday against the White Sox in the Cactus League finale.

• Paddack followed Snell by allowing three runs on four hits and one walk across three innings. He fell victim to some sloppy defense behind him, and as a result, he needed 63 pitches to get through those three innings. But Paddack was better than his line indicated. Only one of those runs was earned, and he struck out four.

"We didn't play well today, all the way around," said Melvin, whose team committed three errors in the loss. "Sloppy game today. ... But I thought all in all, [Paddack] threw the ball well."

• Catcher Jorge Alfaro threw out both would-be D-backs basestealers, as he continues his push for the backup catcher spot. Said Melvin: “He’s got some tools. Always has. It’s just about getting it all together. … He’s continuing to impress.”