Sunday, April 20, 2008

Darvish Watch 08: Episode 1

After an eventful offseason that saw Yu Darvish lead the Japanese national team to an impressive championship in the Asian Games, qualifying Japan for the Beijing Olympics, a new season is upon us with tremendous promise for the 21-year old ace of the Nippon Ham Fighters. There's not much left for Darvish to accomplish in Japan, after the 2006 Japan Series title, 2007 Sawamura Award, and international success to his credit. Some speculation about a post-season posting to the Major Leagues has been bandied about, as have tabloid stories about the New York Yankees' interest in Yu. All of that is a distraction from the regular season ahead and the prospect that Darvish could post a sub-1.00 ERA and a 20 win season, among other historical feats. He is far ahead of Daisuke Matsuzaka's trajectory at the same age and we really can't project a ceiling for his ability.

The first start for Darvish in 2008 came against the Chiba Lotte Marines and Bobby Valentine. The Marines are a solid offensive club with an interesting mix of power and speed, but rarely put everything together for long stretches. Darvish struggled a great deal during the first inning of starts in 2007, often succumbing to control problems and poorly timed walks. On a number of occasions last season, the young righty seemed to overthrow in the 1st, losing his grip on the count, the scoreboard, and his emotions. Innings 2 through 9 were lights out, but that 1st inning was his undoing far too often. How did he open the season?

In this contest, Darvish came out throwing darts and retired the side without any difficulty whatsoever. In fact, he retired the first 7 batters he faced with 4 strikeouts and proceeded to dominate 13 of his first 14 batters faced, before walking light hitting Shoichi Ohmatsu in the 5th. All in all, Darvish allowed 5 baserunners on 4 hits and a walk over 9 complete, fanning 10. The complete game shutout came on 124 effortless pitches and the Fighters opened the season with a win. A promising beginning for Darvish and his Hokkaido boys. Keep the line moving Yu and let's make some history in '08.

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