De facto ace Yu Darvish, who signed a six-year, $60 million contract in January, took the mound for the Rangers in the most important game of his young career. But somehow, somehow, he was out-dueled by Joe Saunders, who entered the contest with a 9.38 ERA in six career starts at Rangers Ballpark.
Darvish, on the other hand, had thrived at home this season, boasting a 10-2 record, 3.88 ERA and 2.85 K/BB rate in 14 starts.
But it didn’t take long for the Orioles to get on the board, as Nate McLouth reached on an error by Michael Young on the game’s first pitch, stole second and scored on J.J. Hardy’s single three pitches later.
The 25-year-old right-hander ultimately settled down, retiring 15 of the next 17 batters until Ryan Flaherty singled with one out in the seventh inning. After a Manny Machado sacrifice bunt put the go-ahead run, pinch-runner Robert Andino, on second base, Darvish was lifted for left-hander Derek Holland.
As they’ve done all season, the Orioles’ bullpen shut down the Rangers’ potent offense and Darvish was saddled with the loss after allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits over six and two-thirds innings. The right-hander struck out six without walking a batter.
Although he probably pitched well enough to win and his overall line looks good on paper, Darvish was incredibly mediocre and, in general, unimpressive. Sure, the seven strikeouts and zero walks look nice; but remember, he was facing a free-swinging team that features six players with more than 100 strikeouts on the year.
Although he technically has a seven-pitch mix, only five seem genuinely distinguishable. His fastballs consist of a 93-96 mph four-seamer, low-90s two-seamer and 87-91 mph cutter. Darvish throws two breaking balls: a high-80s, late-breaking slider and a slow, loopy, Vicente Padilla-like curveball.
Of his 91 pitches on Friday night, the right-hander threw only 59 for strikes, as he worked deep into the count on too many hitters. Given his arsenal and the aforementioned collective tendency of the Baltimore offense, Darvish should theoretically have been more effective.
The major problem I noticed was that he threw too few four- and two-seam fastballs, and when he did, they were easily recognized balls out of the zone.
It seemed as though he threw more cutters and sliders with an occasional “show-me” curveball, hoping the Orioles’ over-aggressive hitters would swing over them—and they did, for the most part. However, he wasn’t efficient with his pitches and therefore couldn’t work out of the seventh inning.
What bothered me was that everything Darvish threw, aside from the curveball, registered in the high-80s, low-90s. When every pitch is coming in at the same speed, regardless of the amount of movement, a hitter is able to adjust their timing appropriately, which at least gives them a chance at getting lucky.
The trend began in the second inning after the first few Orioles’ batters made above-average contact against his fastball in the previous frame. After that, it was mainly cutters and sliders to both right- and left-handed hitters.
And you can only throw the same pitches in the same sequence so many times to big-league hitters, which explains why Darvish was unable to make it through the Orioles’ order three times.
Had he pitched more off his fastball, hell, had he even just thrown it with conviction or somewhat of a purpose, he may have fared better in the do-or-die, elimination game.
However, when your team musters only one run on nine hits, leaves eight men on base and goes 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, I guess it doesn't really matter, does it?