Who is Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish? Japan’s Ace starter against Team USA
Having endeared himself to Team Japan’s fans as well as those beyond, it’s as good a time as any to take a look at the ‘Samurai’s’ pitching sensation.
Though he’s been limited to just a handful of innings in the tournament, it’s clear that the Padres’ pitcher has got something special which is precisely why Team Japan’s fans are hoping to see more of him as they prepare to take on the U.S.A. in the final of the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
Padres raise concerns of Yu Darvish’s lack of appearances in WBC
While the debate surrounding players participating in international tournaments can often be centered on the risk of injury, it’s interesting to note that in the case of Japan’s Yu Darvish, the argument is actually somewhat different. Following a stellar relief appearance last Thursday when Japan dismissed Italy 9-3, it was clear that pitcher Yu Darvish was back in business. In what was his first relief appearance since 2010, the Padres pitcher recorded six outs across 27 pitches in the victory that sent them to the semifinals.
Interestingly, Padres manager, Bob Melvin, later voiced concerns about Darvish’s situation in light of the fact that he has not featured heavily for his country during the tournament. To that end, Melvin acknowledged that he and his coaching staff were unsure as to whether Darvish - their presumed starter for the Opening Day - would make any Cactus League starts when he finally returns to the team. “Yeah, especially after two (innings in Tokyo),” Melvin said. “I mean, he’s a guy that you feel like you can push, you can get wherever you need to. But it doesn’t mean we would be comfortable pushing too far, you know, if and when he’s back here for a start. Yeah, it wasn’t ideal.” To be clear, Darvish won’t be starting in the final against Team USA, but it’s highly likely he will feature at some point. Where the Padres are concerned, they’ve got one other player due to participate in the final, with Team USA starter Nick Martinez also set to play. “You can’t help but think about some things that happen,” Melvin said. “So it’s unfortunate, but you can’t help in the back of your mind (thinking) about, ‘Just get these guys back healthy.’”
From the NPB to the MLB
It’s worth noting that Darvish was scouted by Major League teams such as the Anaheim Angels and Atlanta Braves right out of junior high. Interestingly, Darvish rejected the interest while maintaining a desire to play for a Japanese professional team instead. To that end he was later regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in the 2004 NPB amateur Draft. From that point, it was a steady climb up the stats ladder of the league as he proved time and time again that he was among the best on the mound in the game. From his breakout season in 2006, when registered a 12–5 record with 115 strikeouts and a 2.89 ERA, to 2011 when he became the highest-paid player in Japan on a salary of $6.06 million, it was clear a star was on the rise.
Of course, it wasn’t long before MLB came calling and prior to the 2012 season, he was in fact posted to the league at which point he accepted an offer from the Texas Rangers in December of 2011. In January of 2021, he was signed to a $60 million, six-year contract. His first start would arrive on April 9th of that year in a game against the Seattle Mariners. During the contest he picked up his very first strikeout against Dustin Ackley. He would be named to the 2012 MLB All-Star Game just a few months later in June. Since those early days, the Japanese pitcher has experienced everything from a significant elbow injury which saw him miss the entire 2015 season, an eventual move to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017. During his stint in LA, he’d help take the Dodgers to the World Series, but unfortunately his performance were forgettable as the team slumped to defeat, with he himself being held largely accountable for the failure.
The Cubs and then onto the Padres
Following that fateful season with the Dodgers, Darvish became a free agent and eventually chose not to re-sign with the franchise. It wasn’t long after that he put pen to paper on a six-year, $126 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. Though his time in Chicago was impressive, it was also plagued by injury. Once again, his elbow was a problem as he approached 2020′s pandemic shortened season. Eventually, he would be traded to the San Diego Padres in December of that year. In his first season he posted an 8-11 record with a 4.22 ERA and 199 strikeouts in just over 166 innings. He was voted to his fifth All-Star team as well. Just last month, Darvish signed a six-year, $108 million extension with the Padres.
What about Yu Darvish’s international career?
While you might imagine that Darvish’s role in the national team would be assured, it’s interesting to note that this is in fact his first appearance in the team since the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Prior to that, the 36-year-old played in the 2008 Beijing Olympics where the team finished fourth after losing the bronze medal game to the United States. During the aforementioned WBC, he posted an overall 2-1 record with 2.08 ERA and 20 strikeouts across 13 innings. Worth mentioning is the fact that he also recorded a career-high 99 mph pitch in that tournament. This of course brings us to the present where he’s been a key part in Japan’s march to the finals. While it’s now confirmed that teammate Shōta Imanaga will be starting, we can definitely expect to see Darvish at some point. Given what happened the last time he faced the Americans, we feel it’s safe to say he’ll have one thing on his mind: Revenge.