NEW YORK — Welcome to the best team in baseball, Yu Darvish.
If there were still questions about why a team on pace for 114 wins and owning the best rotation ERA in the majors would feel the need to acquire a pitcher with a 6-9 record and 4.01 ERA, Darvish answered them Friday night at Citi Field with seven dominant scoreless innings in a 6-0 win over the Mets, striking out 10 and giving up only three hits and one walk.
We do need to look at the visual evidence to solve one mystery, however. Was there a hug or not?
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was obviously beaming after Darvish’s performance.
“I enjoyed the show,” he said. “I got a big hug from Yu after his outing. He’s already blending in with the other players and you can just see the joy in him.”
Darvish wasn’t so sure about that hug.
“I thought we just shook hands,” he said. Then he paused. “But maybe I gave him a hug.”
One thing is certain: If Darvish pitches more gems like this one, there will be plenty of hugs for everyone. Considering the Dodgers have now won 42 of 49 games since June 7 and 22 of 25 since July 4, they probably already lead the majors in hugs.
Darvish entered this game in a slump, with a 5.81 ERA over his past eight starts, including a career-worst 10-run outing in his final start with the Rangers on July 26 against the Marlins. That outing prompted Darvish to apologize to Rangers fans in a full-page ad he purchased in the Dallas Morning News, thanking them for their support and saying it was his “biggest regret” he had such a poor outing in his final start with the club.
There were also reports after that game that Darvish might have been tipping his pitches, something Darvish himself acknowledged. Against the Mets, he said he just focused on consistent mechanics.
Wearing No. 21 instead of the No. 11 he wore with the Rangers, Darvish certainly looked as if he were born to be a Dodger, looking regal in that classic Dodgers road uniform. He did survive a shaky first inning when Michael Conforto lined his first pitch into right field for a single, Jay Bruce walked with one out and Yoenis Cespedes then just missed a three-run home run with a fly ball to the warning track in left-center. Darvish ended the inning by reaching above his head to snag Curtis Granderson‘s liner.
“I wasn’t worried about being with the Dodgers in my first outing,” Darvish said “I gave up 10 runs in my last game, so there was a little nervousness just coming back from that.”
A key at-bat took place in the third inning, after opposing starter Jacob deGrom had led off the inning with a soft liner past third base with Justin Turner shifted over toward shortstop. After Conforto struck out, Asdrubal Cabrera battled in a 10-pitch at-bat — as deGrom stole second base — before finally going down swinging on a 95 mph fastball.
“They gave him some tough at-bats early on, really battled,” Roberts said. “Ultimately, Yu got through those with the fastball up and away. The slider was OK, we’ve seen it better. There was a lot of energy.”
Darvish did work very slowly — “very deliberate and methodical,” as Roberts described it — and in the early innings did shake his head in disgust at a couple of sliders on which he didn’t like the execution.
It’s worth noting that Darvish referenced a discussion with general manager Farhan Zaidi at the hotel before coming to the park. He said Zaidi gave him “a lot of information” about how to attack the Mets’ hitters.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal also referenced throwing more four-seam fastballs, specifically citing a battle against Conforto in the fifth inning with Amed Rosario on third base with two outs. Conforto ended up striking out on a high fastball.
“He knew exactly what I wanted and where I wanted it in that sequence,” Grandal said. “That right there was a confidence boost.”
Here’s another one: Grandal is recognized as one of the best pitch-framers in the business and that should help Darvish. According to ESPN Stats & Information metrics, Darvish had been hurt by the third-worst framing of any qualified starter, about 35 strikes below average. That is likely to change with Grandal.
“He threw a couple pitches he’s not used to getting called strikes, and you could see his face light up,” the catcher said. “The more he pitches here, he’ll see he’ll get more of those calls.”
Grandal says it will also give him the confidence to call for those pitches, knowing Darvish can execute and get strikes.
In other words, Darvish might end up being better than he was with the Rangers — certainly better than that 4.01 ERA indicates. Leaving Globe Life Park, where he had a 5.38 ERA this season, will also help. And if he’s better, the best team in baseball just got better.
No wonder Dodgers players seem legitimately thrilled to have Darvish here. They first heard about the trade as the team was flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta on Monday afternoon.
“Everyone was excited,” closer Kenley Jansen said before Friday’s game. “Our goal is to win the World Series, ownership wants to win the World Series, so we’re all happy to have him here and see him pitch.”
Now they’ve seen him. And it was an exciting show.