You will not find any clever puns in this article like you will probably read throughout the day today in other articles and publications. The use of those puns was so 2012 and it would be unhip for me to use them at this stage of Darvish’s career. This article is solely about the dominance of a young man on a day that Gerry Fraley, of the Dallas Morning News, foolishly labeled as a “must win” game for this young 2013 season. Whether or not you agreed with Fraley’s hyperbole isn’t important, but what matters is that Darvish nearly threw the Rangers first perfect game since when Kenny Rogers threw one against the California Angels on July 28, 1994.
Darvish was dominant from start to finish of this one even though early on in the game he had trouble locating his fastball. He whiffed 6 of the first 9 Astros and 9 of the first 12 by the time the fourth inning had ended. Darvish struck out at least one batter each inning and even struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth inning, until he surrendered the first hit in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. In the first inning Darvish threw 16 pitches with only eight being strikes and his command looked shaky, but a devastating slider kept him out of any significant harm. He also threw 16 pitches in the second inning and the chances of Darvish having a long night did not look good. As the game continued, he found the strike zone and kept his strike percentage in the 70% range for much of the game and settled into an insurmountable groove.
By the time the 9th inning rolled around, the nation had turned its eyes to Houston and Minute Maid Park to hopefully witness history. In between innings, the TV broadcasters mentioned that it appeared Darvish was nursing what seemed to be a blister on his finger before heading out to the mound. There was even some speculation as to whether or not he would go out to the mound because of either the pitch count or the possible blister situation. Looking at his Pitch F/X data for the ninth inning, Darvish attacked the hitters and really lived over the heart of the plate on the outer half, hoping maybe that his defense would make the play and limit his pitches thrown in the inning. He threw four fastballs in the ninth inning and didn’t appear to try to overpower the hitters in the least. The graphic below shows the location of those four pitches versus the three left-handed hitters he faced in the inning (Castro, Corporan, and Gonzalez)
Pitch F/X data courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net
All four fastballs out over the plate and the final dagger was the fourth fastball which was hit sharply up the middle and was a no doubt base hit, the first of the night for the Astros. The culprit was Marwin Gonzalez, the slick fielding young shortstop that made his big league debut in 2012 with the Astros after floating around the minor leagues since 2005. The only other plate appearance for Gonzalez against the Rangers was last year as a pinch hitter. He flew out versus Colby Lewis in the 8th inning of a rather insignificant at bat, but little did Rangers fans know that this no name utility infielder would one day break their hearts in the bottom of the 9th with two outs on April 2nd in a 7-0 blowout.
Despite this heartbreak, the positives taken from Tuesday night’s game undoubtedly overshadow the negatives for Yu Darvish. He battled through early fastball command issues and relied on his slider and cutter and was still dominant. He appeared relaxed and in control from start to finish, which is something, we couldn’t say about his MLB debut last year against the Mariners. Most importantly, Darvish carried himself and had the swagger of an ace. He left little doubt in my mind that this pitching staff centers around him and regardless of who the Opening Day starter was, this young man is the ace.