A year ago I was walking around Washington, D.C. for a work trip listening to radio coverage of a Yu Darvish start. It appeared to be a gem, he had a no-hitter going through four innings and I was finally starting to breath a sigh of relief about the Cubs newest pitcher.
And then, it all fell apart in the fifth inning.
The fifth inning was were a lot went wrong for Yu Darvish last season, so you’ll forgive me if I couldn’t quite breath easy on Monday night when I found myself once again in D.C. following along with a Darvish start. This time, however I was out with a friend so rather than listening to Pat and Ron I found myself following along on Gameday.
The thing about following games on Gameday is that you wind up seeing a lot more about pitch location and make-up than you hear in a standard radio or TV broadcast. That proved to be beneficial for this particular game because despite a bit of trouble in the later part of the inning (more on that in a second) Darvish’s location and pitch selection during this fifth inning was brilliant. So brilliant that I rewatched the inning a few times when I got home and wanted to write about it, so this edition of Sara’s Snapshots is devoted to a pretty brilliant half inning of pitching by Yu Darvish.
To set the stage Darvish entered the fifth inning at 61 pitches, 36 for strikes. He had a line at that point of: 4 IP 3H 2R 2ER 3BB 5K. Everything about that is solid, the pitch count, Ks and number of strikes per pitches is particularly good.
Granderson at bat
The first batter Yu had to face was Curtis Granderson and there is a lot to love in how Darvish approaches this match-up. Darvish misses low and inside for a ball but follows it up with a low strike that Granderson can do nothing but watch, which sets up this gem that looks like the same pitch Granderson watched for strike two before the bottom drops out as he swings:
I really can’t stress how brilliant this pitch placement is by Yu. Granderson likes the ball low and dead center, these balls are just inside enough to tempt him:
Darvish knows he has a good thing going so he goes back to that spot for pitch number four:
Granderson fouls off Yu’s fourth pitch which also just perfectly paints the lower inside corner, and that sets up this absolutely devastating swinging strike out. I don’t know what to say, Granderson is looking low and in, and Yu just runs 76 mph curveball middle high perfectly painting the outside of the plate. It’s definitely a strike, Granderson definitely has to swing, and he’s definitely not going to hit this. One down:
Darvish is now at 66 pitches with 40 for strikes.
One pitch, one out
Brian Anderson is up next and he’s no match for Yu Darvish in this at bat. In fact, it only takes one pitch for Yu to get Anderson to weakly ground out. However, I do want to look at that one pitch, because frankly, it’s another perfectly placed ball and it should be admired:
This is just off the plate, it’s exactly where Willson Contreras is set up to catch it and Anderson can only make weak contact that results in a quick out.
A blip in the brilliance
The fifth inning wasn’t perfect. In fact, if you’re anything like me, as Starlin Castro walked on five pitches that were no where near the strike zone you may have found yourself going “Oh, dear God. Not again. My kingdom for a clean fifth inning.” Or something like that. I mean, I’ll be honest, this wasn’t pretty:
After the walk Darvish is at 72 pitches with 42 for strikes. And yes, I added this line solely for the 42 shout-out on Jackie Robinson Day.
When Neil Walker followed that up with a seeing eye single to left to beat the shift my sense of dread increased. Although I want to be fair to Darvish here, he hit his spots to Walker and induced weak ground ball contact that would have ended the inning if the infield wasn’t shifted.
Rojas ends the inning
Miguel Rojas comes to the plate and on the first pitch it looks like the wheels are about to fall off of this inning. Contreras and Darvish get crossed up. You can see Willson set up on the inside part of the plate as this pitch dances to the outside. Rather than moving his body to block the pitch, Willson tries to stab at it, the passed ball advances both runners to second and third:
I think if I’d have been listening to this game I would have been more nervous about this inning, but I was watching on Gameday and aside from the Castro at bat, Darvish was doing such a good job hitting his spots I was really intrigued to see if he could keep it together here and get Rojas to end the inning.
Yu didn’t disappoint - check out where the next pitches are on this pitch map. Absolutely perfect location, even the ones that barely miss set up the end of this at bat:
Frankly, the final pitch of this at bat deserves a video - watch the movement on this perfectly placed beauty to end the fifth inning [VIDEO]..
It was really a thing to see Yu battle back through a rough inning while hitting pretty much all the spots he needed to against every batter except Castro. There were some gems in the sixth inning (prior to that not so great HBP) that rivaled at bats in the fifth.
Over the fifth inning on Monday in Miami Yu Darvish threw 19 pitches, 12 for strikes. He struck out two batters on absolutely devastating pitches and for the most part painted the corners perfectly. During his 5⅔ innings pitched in Miami he threw 96 pitches, 67 for strikes. He threw six different pitches and frankly these are video game numbers:
I said it at the start of the season and I’ll say it again: I’m very much here for the Yu Darvish comeback season. If he has a few more innings like this in him I expect him to have an incredible 2019.