Darvish looks ahead after disappointing '21
Padres fall below .500 in what could be right-hander's last start of season
LOS ANGELES -- As Yu Darvish went, so went the 2021 San Diego Padres.
A bit simplistic? Sure. It certainly isn’t meant to pin the Padres’ second-half struggles on one starting pitcher. But Darvish's 2021 season -- his first in San Diego -- almost perfectly aligned with this year's Padres roller coaster.
Consider the specifics of Darvish's ‘21 campaign: Red-hot in the first half, beset by injuries in the second half and unable to gain any measure of consistency or momentum.
Sounds a whole lot like the 2021 Padres, doesn't it?
On Tuesday, Darvish's season, like that of the Padres, appears to have come to an end much earlier than he, or they, would've hoped. The veteran right-hander pitched four innings of two-run ball in a 2-1 loss to Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium.
The defeat was the Padres’ seventh straight against the Dodgers, dropping them below .500 for the first time this season. It marks the latest low point in a second half full of them, and afterward, Darvish adamantly called for a greater level of “cohesiveness” when the team is struggling.
“When we’re talking about the team, cohesiveness is something that may help us out, moving forward,” Darvish said through a team interpreter. “When we’re in a funk, when we’re not able to win games and we’re struggling, those are the times we need to come together and be cohesive and move forward.”
There's still an outside chance that Darvish could pitch again this season. He currently sits on 199 strikeouts and he expressed a desire to reach 200. Darvish would be on four days’ rest if the Padres decided to start him against the Giants for Sunday's series finale.
That seems unlikely. Before the game, manager Jayce Tingler noted that Tuesday would probably be Darvish's final start. Darvish, of course, battled hip and back tightness in the second half and twice landed on the injured list because of it. With the Padres out of contention, there's no need to ask for another start out of him, when they’ve already pushed him down the stretch.
“We haven’t made the final decision yet,” Tingler said afterward.
Let's say that's it for Darvish. His first season in San Diego is a tricky one to assess. He finished the year with a 4.22 ERA and a 3.90 FIP across 30 starts. He struck out 199 while walking 44. According to FanGraphs, Darvish was worth 2.8 wins above replacement entering play Tuesday.
Taken on the whole, that's a decent, but unspectacular return. Break it down further, and it’s a disappointing "what if?" Darvish had a 2.44 ERA at the end of June. He had a 3.09 ERA in mid-July when he landed on the IL for the first time.
“When I look back, I think in July when I hurt my hip, that threw off my normal mechanics,” Darvish said. “I had to go out of step on my mechanics just because of the hip. That sort of affected my slider and cutter mainly.”
After returning from injury, Darvish posted a 6.16 ERA in 12 starts and would land on the IL again with those same back and hip troubles. There were starts here and there in which Darvish reverted to his dominant first-half self. They were few and far between.
“The first half, he was as dominant as anybody in the league,” Tingler said. “He had a little bit of that hip tightness, that back tightness, and I know he worked through that, and he’s much better now. But I still think there’s a little bit of, he just doesn’t have the range of motion in there, and he’s had to tweak a little bit of his delivery.
“The main thing is getting him back to 100 percent with the hip, the range of motion, the strength, so he can get back to throwing the ball with his delivery.”
The Padres, of course, landed Darvish amid a flurry of moves in late December. The deal was finalized on the same day they traded for Blake Snell. San Diego moved a handful of intriguing prospects for a pair of proven big league arms. It was the surest sign yet that the Padres were all-in on the idea that they were bona fide contenders. It hasn’t played out that way.
The 35-year-old Darvish, like Snell, is under contract for two more seasons after this one. There's still plenty of time for the Padres to see those two major rotation acquisitions pay dividends.
But the first year of Darvish's tenure will ultimately go down as a disappointment -- an electric start and some truly memorable moments, yes, but not the end product anyone envisioned.
For Darvish. And for the Padres.