SAN DIEGO -- From the moment he arrived in the big leagues, Yu Darvish has ranked among the sport's elite pitchers. But in 2020, he took his game to a different level. Darvish emerged as one of baseball’s preeminent aces, the kind of pitcher whose starts were must-see TV. He finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting and made a strong case for the top spot.
Tough act to follow, right? And yet, somehow, after being traded from the Cubs to the Padres in December, Darvish might be even better than he was a year ago.
Darvish continued his brilliant start to his Padres tenure with seven scoreless innings Monday night in a 7-0 win over the Rockies at Petco Park, marking San Diego’s fourth straight victory. He struck out 10 without allowing a walk and lowered his ERA to 1.81.
“All of my pitches were working for me today,” Darvish said through an interpreter.
But one pitch in particular.
“He threw some just filthy two-seamers,” added Padres manager Jayce Tingler.
Consider the sequence Darvish used to end the sixth inning. After throwing ball one, Darvish got Ryan McMahon to swing through an 84.5 mph backdoor cutter. McMahon then watched as Darvish dotted the top of the strike zone with a 69.3 mph curveball.
And here's what makes Darvish so truly unique: He'll set you up with his dizzying array of breaking pitches. Then once he's ahead of you, and you've begun to guess breaking ball, he has upper-90s heat in his back pocket. Darvish threw a beautiful 95.4 mph two-seam fastball with life that tailed over the inside corner at the letters. McMahon swung, but he didn't have much of a chance.
“I’ve seen him do it to a couple lefties this year -- it starts on the hip, and somehow ends up on the corner,” Tingler said. “You’re used to him cutting the ball, spinning the ball, getting the ball to break one way. Then, he’s able to run the two-seamer in and you can’t really see rotation, and it’s moving that much at 94, 95, 96 mph. Just the ability to move the ball like that -- he’s unique.”
The Padres gave Darvish plenty of run support from the outset. Trent Grisham opened the game with a triple, and Manny Machado -- the subject of debate on social media earlier in the day -- followed by launching a towering home run, giving the Padres a 2-0 lead before they’d recorded an out.
Victor Caratini, Darvish’s personal catcher, chipped in with a two-run double in the fourth. Then, in the sixth, Darvish got in on the act himself. He ripped a laser two-out double into the left-field corner for his first hit with the Padres. He later came around to score his first Padres run -- more than he allowed.
“He finally got a hit,” Caratini said in his usual deadpan when asked to discuss Darvish’s hitting. “I didn’t think he was going to have one.”
Suffice it to say, the Padres are getting everything they could’ve hoped for -- and then some -- after sending four prospects and right-hander Zach Davies to the Cubs to land Darvish and Caratini in December.
Darvish has now completed at least six innings in six of his nine starts. The other three? One was Opening Day. Another he came one out shy against the Pirates on May 5. And the other was a seven-inning game, part of a doubleheader at Coors Field last Wednesday. Darvish's 69 strikeouts are the most for any Padres starting pitcher through his first nine starts with the club.
But even within the context of his excellent season, Darvish’s outing Monday was special. For one, it was the first time he’d put up a zero in the runs column (after six starts in which he’d allowed one).
“It was definitely fun pitching out there, not just the results, but it was more about me being able to pitch the way I want to and having that release of what I was looking for,” Darvish said.
How’s this for a scary thought? Darvish says he wasn’t quite himself during those first eight starts. You know, that pitcher with the 2.08 ERA and 0.92 WHIP entering Monday? Yeah, that wasn’t his best, he says.
“From Spring Training, something wasn’t right, and I’ve been thinking about it all up until [Sunday],” Darvish said.
On Sunday night, Darvish said, something clicked in his evaluation of his mechanics. He wouldn’t go into details. But Darvish said he was watching video at home, when he grabbed his glove and a ball and went through a few mock deliveries.
“Last night before I went to bed, everything became clear,” Darvish said. “Obviously, I was able to bring that to the mound tonight. … It felt like everything came together there.”
That’s right, Darvish, an ace in the Major Leagues for nearly a decade, is still getting better at age 34.