Darvish gets extra day of rest with playoffs looming

September 30th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- With the regular-season finale less than a week away, it's officially rotation-reshuffling season. On Thursday, the Padres took a bit of a gamble -- pushing to Friday, with an eye on setting themselves up for the postseason.

San Diego opted to start righty reliever in a bullpen game against the Dodgers on Thursday night at Petco Park. Darvish had never been formally announced as Thursday's starter, but he would have been pitching on normal rest. Instead, Darvish will face the White Sox on Friday for the opener of a three-game series, with bumped to Saturday.

"We like the way the rotation sets up all the way to the end," manager Bob Melvin said. "It gives Yu an extra day. It gives Clev an extra day. ... And then we'll do something a little bit more creative today."

Darvish will get extra rest and would be lined up nicely to start a potential Wild Card Series Game 1 on Oct. 7. (Darvish has been the Padres' steadiest starting pitcher all season.) But it also comes with considerable risk, should the Padres need to call upon Darvish to pitch a potential Game 162 clincher.

Here's a breakdown of the decision:

Why they're doing it
There are plenty of reasons for bumping Darvish to Friday. But the biggest is this: The Padres are in a comfortable enough position. As of Thursday afternoon, they led the Brewers and Phillies by three games in the NL Wild Card race. They don't need to ride Darvish too heavily down the stretch.

As such, Darvish gets an extra day's rest (and potentially a more favorable matchup against the White Sox). If the Padres were to need him to pitch a potential clincher on the final day of the season, Darvish would be available for Game 162, as well.

Ideally, Friday would be Darvish’s final start of the regular season.

“You hope,” Melvin said. “But you also have to look at the last day, too, which could be important as well. Nothing's for sure.”

What are the risks?
Here’s a big one: potentially losing Darvish for a three-game Wild Card Series.

Darvish has been the Padres' best starter this season, posting a 3.05 ERA and working at least six innings in each of his past 22 starts. He's precisely the guy they’d want on the mound for one of three games to settle their season -- and ideally to set the tone in Game 1.

But by pushing Darvish to Friday, the Padres are indirectly jeopardizing his status for a potential Wild Card Series. If he were needed to pitch a Game 162 clincher on Wednesday, he wouldn’t be available on normal rest for the Wild Card Series. The Padres would either be forced to start Clevinger or a short-rest Darvish in Game 3 of that series.

The Padres could have avoided that possibility by starting Darvish on Thursday, then lining him up to pitch Game 161. (In that scenario, Darvish would’ve been on full rest for a Wild Card Series Game 3.)

In short: The Padres are gambling that they’ll have their spot in the playoffs clinched by next Tuesday. If they don’t, it could come with a serious cost.

How does the rest of the rotation line up? 
Melvin announced his plans through Monday:

Friday vs. White Sox: Darvish
Saturday vs. White Sox: Clevinger
Sunday vs. White Sox:
Monday vs. Giants:

On Tuesday, if the Padres haven’t clinched, they’d likely go with a strategy similar to the one they used Thursday. Then -- although they’d prefer to avoid it – they would pitch Darvish in Game 162 if a trip to the postseason were on the line.

(Remember, there’s no one-game playoff this season, with head-to-head record used to break any ties. The Padres hold the tiebreaker over Milwaukee but not Philadelphia.)

Ideally, however, the Padres would clinch this weekend. Their magic number entering Thursday was four. If they can line up their rotation to their liking, the Padres appear to be aiming for this Wild Card Series rotation:

Game 1: Darvish
Game 2: Snell
Game 3: Musgrove

But Melvin, understandably, isn’t entertaining questions about his playoff rotation just yet.

“I could start the first game,” he quipped. “I just want to get there. If we get there, and I have to start, I'll live with that. But we obviously have an eye on that. If we get there before [Wednesday], then Yu's there. ... But that's getting way ahead of ourselves.”