Thursday, May 31, 2007

Darvish Watch: Episode 8

Could our hero make it to 7 consecutive complete games against the Pacific leading SoftBank Hawks? To this point in the season, Yu Darvish has been nothing short of miraculous for the Fighters and is poised as a 20-year old terminator for whatever team puts him on the field, be it Nippon Ham or the Japanese national team he figures to lead in the future. SoftBank sports a very tough 3-4-5 punch of Tamura, Matsunaka, and Kokubo who could put the fear of Babe Ruth in any opposing pitcher's heart. What about Darvish? Surely he is above such timidity.....

In the last post, I mentioned that Darvish has struggled with his command in the first inning of several starts this season. Orix failed to play their leadoff success into runs by foolishly wasting an out with a typically Japanese sacrifice. What would SoftBank find before them on this day? Here's a rundown of the first inning, batter by batter:

Honda: walk
Morimoto: sac to catcher (there it is...ugh)
Tamura: RBI double
Matsunaka: walk
Kokubo: RBI double
Shibahara: sac fly
Honma: walk
Hyzdu: fly out to center

When you sport a 3-4-5 like SoftBank you can get away with the sac bunt. I still don't understand why anyone would put a 500-ish OPS guy in the #2 hole as a designated sac bunter. Morimoto did his job, but what a stupid job it is. Had SoftBank put Tamura, Matsunaka, and Kokubo at the 2-3-4, they might have extended that inning even further. As it is, Darvish threw a million pitches and gave up 3 early runs. It didn't get much better for the young ace.

Darvish gave up a leadoff hit up the middle in the 2nd before working out of trouble by retiring the next 3 batters in order. The third inning was a little more adventurous as Darvish issued a leadoff walk, much to Trey Hillman's chagrin, and then promptly recorded two outs. On the verge of escaping once again, Darvish gave up two singles to the left side which simply found holes in the defense. He got catcher Yamazaki looking to end the threat with the bases loaded. Here's where it gets interesting.

Trey Hillman, after watching his ace struggle with command and confidence on the mound, decides to relieve him after allowing back to back walks to open the 4th inning. Darvish had thrown 83 unimpressive pitches over 3+ innings and looked out of it. As he strode from the mound to the dugout, Darvish was visibly humiliated and annoyed. He controlled his reaction, but he was clearly embarrassed and extremely angry. I would have to guess that he was first angry at himself, but not without also being infuriated by Hillman's choice to remove him at that point in the game. At the time, I also felt the hook was premature. Darvish wasn't on his game and he was often not close to the strike zone, but he had managed to work his way out of huge trouble to that point, only allowing 3 runs. If a pitcher is your ace, and you hope he will have your trust going forward, you have to let him try to get out of a few early jams. The Fighters had scratched across 2 runs at that point and the score was only 3-2. Surely you have to build your best pitcher up to the point where he will get out of his funk by buckling down and fighting through it.

I just can't see many managers going out there to relieve Clemens, Pedro, Maddux, Santana, Oswalt, or a host of other top pitchers in the 4th inning, with the game 3-2. Darvish helped the Fighters win their first Japan Series less than a year ago, and I think has earned the right to toss a stinker without a quick hook. I believe the young man thought so as well, although he'd never admit it. Nevertheless, the game continued without Darvish and we saw the Nippon Ham pen give up 5 runs in the fifth inning to lose the game 8-2. Darvish could have done that.

And so ends the complete game string at 6. Maybe the next game will see better results for the Fighters top man on the mound. Click below for updated stats:

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