Yu Darvish has the benefit of strong bullpen with Dodgers

on Aug17

As Yu Darvish waited to return to the mound for the seventh inning Wednesday night, he was approached by Clayton Kershaw.

“How do you feel?” Kershaw said.

“I’m a little concerned,” Darvish replied.

Davish’s back was tight, as was six days earlier when he made his last start.

“We need you in six weeks,” Kershaw reminded him.

The short exchange, which Darvish later recalled in Japanese, was enough to convince the prized trade-deadline acquisition to prematurely depart from his first home start in a Dodgers uniform.

His performance was on the underwhelming side, as he served up three home runs that accounted for the three runs charged to him over six innings. Except it was enough. If Darvish didn’t already know, he knows now: The Dodgers aren’t asking nearly as much from him as the Texas Rangers did.

The Dodgers won again, this time with a two-run double in the ninth inning by Yasiel Puig that completed a comeback against the Chicago White Sox, whom they beat 5-4. The walk-off victory was the latest reminder of how much Darvish’s circumstances have changed in the two weeks since he was traded by the Rangers.

A fourth-place team with a slumping offense and mediocre group of relievers, the Rangers couldn’t win without Darvish shouldering the workload of a traditional frontline starter. Here, there is no such necessity. His start before this lasted only five innings. But Darvish now has the luxury of handing the baseball over to the National League’s top bullpen and waiting for the Dodgers’ explosive lineup to produce late-inning miracles.

When Darvish departed the game after making a handful of soft warmup tosses in the top of the seventh inning, the Dodgers trailed 3-2. Entering the bottom of the ninth, they were down 4-2.

“The fact that we didn’t just tie the game and go into extra innings, how we were able to win there, that’s really something,” Darvish said.

Kershaw is the only pitcher on the team expected to pitch into the seventh or eighth innings of his starts, and that’s largely because it’s what Kershaw expects of himself. The rotation includes several other decorated starters, from Alex Wood to Rich Hill to Hyun-Jin Ryu. If any of them pitches six innings, that’s enough. Anything more is considered a bonus.

This was always the plan. As far back as spring training, manager Dave Roberts was saying he didn’t expect any pitcher other than Kershaw to reach the 200-inning mark.

They don’t have to be great. They only have to be good. This now applies to Darvish too.

If you’re of a certain age, this isn’t the kind of baseball you grew up watching. It’s definitely not the kind of baseball your father grew up watching.

Complaints of how the game has changed miss the point. This is effective. And for a franchise that hasn’t won a championship in nearly three decades, isn’t that what counts?

There’s a certain peace of mind that comes with playing on a team with the talent and depth of the Dodgers, and if it has allowed other players to flourish, it figures to have the same kind of effect on Darvish.

By his own admission, Darvish was physically limited Wednesday night, which explained why he struck out only two batters after striking out 10 in each of his two starts previous with his new team.

“My body was stiff and I couldn’t move very well,” he said.

This wasn’t the home debut Darvish envisioned. But on this team, it was enough.

Darvish had pitched in Dodger Stadium only twice. That was in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, where he was Japan’s closer. Darvish pitched the final inning of a victory over the United States in the semifinals. He pitched two innings and was the winning pitcher of the final, a 10-inning victory over South Korea.

Darvish struck out Keun-Woo Jeong for the final out of the championship game, a moment that continues to be cherished in his homeland to this day.

The pitcher didn’t relive any of that glory Wednesday night.

He didn’t have to.


Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez

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