'Good luck' to hitters, because Yu's locked in

Darvish tosses 12-K gem as Padres' bullpen holds on for win vs. SF

May 1st, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- This is why they brought him here, after all.

When the Padres shipped five players to the Cubs in a December deal that netted , they felt they had landed a certifiable ace to sit atop their rotation. Four months later -- a month into his San Diego tenure -- Darvish certainly looks the part.

The veteran right-hander was at his wheeling-and-dealing best in the Padres’ 3-2 victory over the Giants on Friday night at Petco Park. He mixed and matched about seven different types of pitches to rack up a season-high 12 strikeouts.

“When he’s locked in, good luck,” said Padres left fielder Jurickson Profar, whose go-ahead two-run single in the sixth inning proved decisive. “... He’s got command of all his pitches, and especially the breaking balls. You know it’s coming. You still can’t hit it.”

That’s a bit of an oversimplification. Sure, there’s a good chance you’re getting a breaking ball from Darvish. But that could be any one from about six different breaking pitches he owns.

“That's the first time in my professional career that I've not seen a fastball, as a pitcher,” Giants starter Logan Webb said. “He's got some nasty stuff. I was telling one of the coaches that I don't think I've seen a right-handed curveball that started at my head and finished in the middle of the plate since high school -- and I saw about seven of those today.”

The most remarkable aspect of Darvish’s 12-strikeout night was indeed the blend of pitches he used to get them. Darvish finished strikeouts with his slider (three times), his sinker (three times), his splitter (twice), his knucklecurve (twice), his four-seam fastball and his cutter.

“It's not necessarily different than anyone else in that you're trying to get a good pitch and put a good swing on it,” Giants catcher Buster Posey said. “But he does give you a lot of different looks. … I don't think, in my career, I've ever really caught anybody like Darvish that relies on their offspeed and punches with the fastball."

That’s right. Posey -- a 12-year veteran, six-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion -- has never caught anyone quite like Darvish.

Over 6 1/3 innings, Darvish allowed only one run when Posey took him deep in the first. But Darvish settled in after that, becoming the fourth pitcher in Padres history to produce a run of five straight starts with at least six innings and one or fewer runs allowed -- and the first since Andy Benes in 1991.

“I feel like it’ll be great if guys can look at me and say, 'This guy’s going to go six innings, seven innings every game,'” Darvish said through an interpreter.

You’d be pretty comfortable saying that right about now. Remove Darvish’s first start from each of the past two seasons -- when he was still clearly building up his workload -- and he’s worked at least six innings every other time he’s pitched during that stretch. Take those two season-opening starts out of the equation, and Darvish has now completed six innings in 20 straight outings, dating back -- coincidentally enough -- to his 14-strikeout gem for the Cubs at Petco Park on Sept. 12, 2019.

Things got interesting when manager Jayce Tingler turned the ball over to his bullpen. With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh, Giants pinch-hitter Darin Ruf launched a would-be go-ahead grand slam into the right-field seats. But after a conference of umpires, the ball was, correctly, ruled foul, missing the pole by mere inches -- a win-probability swing of 47 percent. Left-hander Tim Hill struck out the next two to end the inning.

“I thought that was gone,” Darvish said. “But right after it was called a foul ball, Tim took it to another level.”

In the eighth, left-hander Drew Pomeranz loaded the bases with no outs, but he escaped with only one run’s worth of damage. That was thanks to a remarkable recovery by shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. on a double-play ball. Tatis initially booted an in-between hop, but he composed himself and flipped the ball with his glove to second baseman Jake Cronenworth to start the double play.

“He stayed under control,” Tingler said. “They work that glove flip every day. Once he was able to flip that ball to Jake, Jake’s been really good this year at turning that. … To get that double play right there, I think, saved the game.”

Saved the game, and preserved yet another gem from Darvish. The Padres have been envisioning nights like these since December, and Darvish has delivered.