Things returning to normal for Darvish

Ace righty shows prime stuff in second start since pitching in Classic

April 11th, 2023

NEW YORK -- It was two months ago when the Padres and tied their long-term futures to each other. On Feb. 10, Darvish signed a six-year, $108 million extension, announcing his intent to finish his career with San Diego. Later that day, the team held a press conference at Petco Park.

And that was the last the Padres would see of their ace for the next month and a half. Shortly thereafter, Darvish flew across the Pacific to join Team Japan in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. San Diego was fine with that; Darvish is a 36-year-old veteran whose preparation is as thorough as any pitcher in baseball. But that doesn’t mean the ensuing two months weren’t … weird.

Weird in a good way. But still ... weird.

Darvish helped Japan to its third Classic title. By all accounts, it was the experience of a lifetime. Darvish had won the Classic as a bright-eyed 22-year-old in 2009. But this tournament was particularly special. He was the veteran, imparting his years of wisdom on the next generation of Japanese stars.

In the meantime, Darvish did whatever was asked of him to help Japan to that title. He twice pitched out of the bullpen in the knockout rounds -- something he has never done in 11 big league seasons. When Darvish returned to the Padres, his routine had been thrown out of whack.

Darvish -- who was on the losing end of his duel with Max Scherzer in Monday night’s 5-0 loss to the Mets at Citi Field -- never found the rhythm he was searching for this spring. He didn’t pitch in the Cactus League and was bumped to the back of the season-opening rotation. But his performance Monday night should indicate he’s getting back to his usual self.

“I thought his stuff was good throughout the course of the game,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “It's good to get him out there and throw [104] pitches, feel good about himself. I think now he's back to what we're going to see normally out of him.”

Darvish’s line doesn’t tell the story. He surrendered five runs across 6 1/3 innings. But the last two of those runs were the result of the toughest of tough-luck singles.

First, Luis Guillorme dropped a bunt toward third base. It rolled along the foul line, and third baseman Manny Machado could only watch, hoping it would roll foul. It did not.

Two batters later, Tomás Nido hit a swinging bunt in the same direction. Bizarrely enough, it, too, hugged the line and stayed fair -- this one coming to a stop with half the baseball on the chalk and half on the dirt.

Afterward, Darvish channeled his inner Ron Burgundy. Heck, he wasn’t even mad -- that’s amazing.

“That, down the line, you’ll probably see that once a season,” Darvish said, deadpan. “But you get to see it two times in one inning. So I don’t know if that’s unlucky or if I’m lucky to be able to see that.”

He quickly clarified that he was joking. Obviously, Darvish would’ve liked to have kept his team within striking distance in the seventh. Instead, his night was over after Nido’s swinging bunt.

Francisco Lindor’s two-run double off Tim Hill put the game on ice. After their 3 a.m. ET arrival in New York on Monday, the Padres’ bats never woke up. San Diego pushed Scherzer, making him throw 97 pitches in five innings. But the breakthrough never came.

“We got his pitch count up … we just couldn’t string anything together,” Melvin said.

At the seventh-inning stretch, San Diego trailed 2-0, with Jeff McNeil’s third-inning double providing both runs for New York. Melvin had a decision to make. Darvish, who pitched only five innings in his debut, had thrown 92 pitches and given the Padres six quality frames. That could have been plenty.

But Melvin figured the best way to help Darvish find his groove was to treat him like Yu Darvish.

“I think it was big for me,” Darvish said of being entrusted with the seventh. “It's obviously my first time going [into the seventh] this season, and it's a way for me to tell my body, 'Hey, you're going to have to go this strong throughout the season.'”

Mark Canha opened the frame with a double, and Melvin noted, “You second-guess yourself a little bit at that point.” But it’s hard to find too much fault when Darvish was ultimately done in by two lawn-bowling singles.

“He pitched pretty well,” said McNeil. “He left that one mistake to me over the plate and I was able to drive in two. But he's one of the best pitchers out there. He spins the ball well and keeps us off balance. He pitched well. We were just able to get that big hit tonight.”