Sunday, June 17, 2007

Darvish Watch: Episode 12

Greetings again Darvish Watch fans. I'd like to start today with a little quiz. What is the key to a Yu Darvish victory in 2007? Answer: a good first inning. We've followed this exciting young pitcher's ascent into the lofty heights of pitching royalty in Japan, pitching stellar complete games, striking out batters in the double digits, and looking the part of the matinee idol while doing it. What he hasn't done much is come out guns blazing in the first inning to retire the side cleanly. In recent weeks, I've given you the lowdown on Darvish's first innings, batter by batter, to illustrate his struggles. I'll do the same today.

Hirokazu Ibata (pop out to 2nd)
Hidenori Kuramoto (strike out - runner advances to 1st on passed ball)
Masahiko Morino (walk)
Kosuke Fukudome (RBI double to center)
Kazuki Inoue (walk)
Koji Nakamura (fly out to right)
Motonobu Tanishige (bases loaded RBI walk)
Michihisa Sawai (looking K)

Yes, a little bad luck led to the first baserunner, but I have to tell you that Darvish was straight awful for the better part of the early innings. He had nothing on any of his pitches and very little control. The three walks in this inning are enough to illustrate that, and the final walk to Tanishige that accounted for the second run came on four pitches, none of which was close. Tanishige is a .242 hitter with a .315 OBP and a grand total of 8 extra base hits in 191 plate appearances. You cannot walk that kind of hitter, let alone force in a run on four pitches.

I'll add to the severity of this situation by telling you that the Chunichi starter was Kenshin Kawakami, former Rookie of the Year(1998), Sawamura Award winner(2004), and currently the highest paid pitcher in Japan. In this kind of matchup, especially in conservative Japanese strategic settings, a 2-0 lead early could spell curtains. Most teams don't have the big guns to mount more than a single decent rally against a top starter. Nippon Ham is just such a team. Darvish's margin of error is so thin that these first inning ordeals make it very hard to regroup. This was the case in this contest, as Kawakami dominated the Fighters from the very start, allowing only 3 baserunners through the first 5 innings, two of whom came in the 1st, ironically.

Darvish, meanwhile, never got it going completely, giving up another run in the 4th inning after recording the first two outs quickly. He gave up a hit, hit a batter, and then allowed a little roller to second base to score the runner on an infield single. It was a bit of hard luck for the young ace, but he did allow the hit batsman after all. Nippon Ham had it's one shining moment, where there was some hope. Kawakami appeared to tire just a bit in the 7th as he gave up a leadoff hit followed by a 2 run blast to catcher Shinji Takahashi. After walking the very next batter, Nippon Ham played things conservatively, sac bunting for the first out. Chunichi manager Ochiai went to the pen, who made things a little more interesting, but runners were left stranded, the score 3-2 Dragons.

That's where the game ended. Darvish went the full nine innings, allowing only 5 hits, but he walked 5 batters and hit another. That was his undoing. Considering his early problems, the 20-year old righty only allowed 2 batters over the minimum after the 4th inning. He was never sharp, and he never looked like the world class Darvish that we have come to know, but on an off night he managed to go nine, allowing only 3 runs, striking out 8. Tough loss. Click below for updated stats:

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