Yu Darvish fitting right in with Padres after first spring start

Padres Yu Darvish

Credit: Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images

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Padres Yu Darvish
Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Yu Darvish made his spring training debut for the Padres on Sunday and spoke with the media following his first outing.

What a difference three years makes. When Yu Darvish signed his six-year, $126M contract with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2018 season, the belief was he would help the northsiders to another World Series title. Now, he’ll be looking to help the San Diego Padres bring home their first Commissioner’s Trophy.

Health problems derailed Darvish’s first season in Chicago, and his struggles carried over into the first half of the 2019 season. The second half of that season was the start of one of the best 18 months in baseball. Darvish finished with a 2.76 ERA in 13 second-half starts and finished second in National League Cy Young in the shortened 2020 campaign.

As the Cubs find themselves in transition, the Padres were in the market for a front-line starter. Darvish’s proven track record made him a perfect fit for San Diego, and the 34-year-old had no issues in his first outing with the Padres.

Darvish took the mound against the Royals on Sunday, tossing two innings while striking out four batters, including striking out the side in the first inning. Afterward, Darvish spoke about his first spring training start.

“Yeah, really good. [I] didn’t have to overthink too much,” Darvish said through a translator. “I was able to really pitch my game.”

He went on to discuss conducting his own throwing program.

“They’ve been great. They’ve been really, really supportive,” Darvish said. “I feel like they’ve given me the freedom to get myself ready, and I’m really appreciative of that. So pitching in the game today, it really didn’t feel like I was pitching for a new team.”

Darvish featured a six-pitch mix in 2020, increasing his split-finger fastball usage from the 2019 season. Conversely, his four-seamer dropped linearly from a 37.3 percent usage in 2018 to 14.8 percent last year.

And in what would look like a great day on the stock market, Darvish’s resurgence was larger in part because of his increased usage in his cut fastball. In 2018, he threw his cutter 13.5 percent of the time. Last season, 43.7 percent.

Despite the decreased usage in his four-seam, Darvish experienced tremendous success, producing a .205 average against and 42.3 percent whiff rate, per StatCast.

“I think I was able to put some really good force on some heaters,” Darvish said of his fastball’s success. “But I think a lot of the hitters are looking offspeed when they face me, so that’s why maybe the fastball might have worked a little better.”

By age standards, Darvish is the old guy in the room. The former Japanese Pacific League superstar broke into Major League Baseball with the Texas Rangers in 2012. Since then, he’s pitched over 1,120 innings among the Rangers, Dodgers, and Cubs.

With four All-Star selections and three top-ten Cy Young finishes, Darvish is the perfect mentor for some of the younger pitchers on the Padres roster. Ryan Weathers spoke last week about how much he’s been able to lean on Darvish for advice while also fine-tuning his slider. The same has been said of MacKenzie Gore.

“They’re going out there and doing their best in everything they do,” Darvish said of Weathers and Gore. “It’s really good to see those guys working in that sense. I’ve been in the league long enough, and I would probably be considered a veteran, but being around these young guys, I don’t actually feel like I’m too old.”

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