Darvish takes top spot for MLB K's by pitcher born in Japan

August 15th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- Two days shy of his 37th birthday,  just keeps piling up milestones and accomplishments. His latest was a big one.

With his sixth-inning strikeout of Baltimore’s Ramón Urías in the Padres’ 4-1 loss on Monday night at Petco Park, Darvish became the all-time MLB strikeout leader among pitchers born in Japan.

Darvish's sixth and final strikeout of the night was the 1,919th of his career, moving him past legendary right-hander and into sole possession of first place. Coincidentally, Nomo is also employed by the Padres, as an adviser in the baseball operations department, and he was on hand Monday to witness the accomplishment.

“I remember watching him on television when I was a kid, and we all know how great of a pitcher he is,” Darvish said through Japanese interpreter Shingo Horie. “So just being able to be in his league, it means a lot.”

Darvish and Nomo already occupied a special place in baseball history as the only two pitchers to record 3,000 professional strikeouts with at least 1,000 apiece in MLB and Japan. Since Darvish’s arrival in San Diego, he has gotten to know Nomo well, with the two going out to dinner during the offseason and talking pitching when Nomo is around the team, particularly during Spring Training.

“Two absolutely fantastic pitchers, trailblazers for what they do,” said Padres manager Bob Melvin. “Continued to do it for a long period of time, both over there and here. Probably the two best Japanese pitchers of all time.”

Despite the milestone, Darvish’s efforts weren’t enough, as San Diego lost for the seventh time in eight games. The loss dropped the Padres 6 1/2 games back in the National League Wild Card race, their slim playoff hopes getting slimmer with each disheartening defeat.

Darvish was mostly solid, but he was undone by a rough fifth inning in which he loaded the bases with one out. From there, Darvish’s first pitch to Gunnar Henderson was a curveball on the outside corner at the knees. But Henderson slapped it to the opposite field for a bases-clearing double. The Orioles led, 4-0.

“Give their guy credit for staying inside it and hitting it down the left-field line,” Melvin said. “It wasn’t hit particularly hard. It was placed well, and that was basically, other than the homer, all he gave up. … The line probably doesn’t suggest how well he pitched.” 

The only other run Darvish allowed came on Ryan O’Hearn’s second-inning homer that barely crept into Petco Park’s short right-field porch. But the Padres couldn’t muster much offense against Baltimore rookie Grayson Rodriguez, with their lone run scoring on ’s first Padres homer, cutting the deficit to three in the sixth.

The Padres got no closer. Nine days ago, they sat one win from .500, having cut their deficit in the Wild Card race to three games -- the lowest that number had been since mid-June. Since then, they are 1-7 and sit seven games below .500, one game shy of their low-water mark for the season. 

“We were right on the verge of really being in a really good place when we went on the road,” Melvin said. “But we came back in a tough spot, then we have a really good team that just played better than we did tonight.”

The biggest remaining source of optimism for the Padres is their schedule and the opportunities it will afford them. With 43 games remaining, they have seven against the Giants, four against the D-backs and three apiece against the Phillies, Marlins and Brewers -- all teams the Padres are trying to leapfrog for a Wild Card spot.

Meanwhile, Michael Wacha is set to return from a shoulder injury to start on Tuesday, though it’s unclear just how deep he’ll be able to go. To that end, Darvish’s effort Monday could prove useful. It marked the third consecutive start in which he required fewer than 90 pitches to work at least six innings.

“I thought Darvish was really good, really keeping us off-balance,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. “You never know what he's going to throw; he can throw anything in any count.”

Darvish may not have been at his dominant best on Monday. Yet he managed to work seven innings, saving the bullpen for what might be a heavier workload on Tuesday. 

And in the process, he made a bit of intercontinental baseball history.