It was televised live on four networks in Japan. At 5 a.m.
His first inning was shown on ESPN News, his first and second both were shown on MLB.com and aired on ESPN 103.3 FM, the play-by-play of the entire game was webcast.
There weren’t many people in the Peoria stands for Yu Darvish’s debut, a weekday afternoon affair at 59 degrees and gusty winds, in sharp contrast to what was surely a crazy head count in the press box and the camera wells. But a world was watching, and however you quantify the Darvish buzz going in, it got drowned out by what actually happened.
- Two scoreless innings, three strikeouts, no walks, two doubles.
- 36 pitches, 26 for strikes.
- 10 of the strikes were swung at and missed, which Grantland.com’s Jonah Keri pointed out amounted to a 27.8 percent swinging strike rate, “preposterous” given that Michael Pineda led the big leagues last year at 11.8 percent.
- Darvish threw seven different offerings: a four-seam fastball that topped out at 95 mph, a two-seam sinking fastball, a cutter, a split, a straight change, a hard curve with enough tilt that some are calling it a slider, and a loopy curve that crawled in at 67 mph.
- Padres catcher John Baker saw five of them in his second-inning at-bat, which ended in a swinging strikeout to complete Darvish’s day: a two-seamer, a cutter, a hard curve, a four-seamer, and a splitter. “You don’t usually see that right off the bat for your first at-bat of Spring Training,” said the veteran catcher.
- Eight batters. Seven started out down in the count 0-1, including the first six straight.
- He worked entirely from the stretch, just because he felt he needed the work.
- He made a couple solid plays defensively, including a one-hopper back to the box that he needed all of his six feet and five inches to stretch out and grab, cutting down a runner from third who broke for the plate.
- Aaron Boone (ESPN): “Came away impressed with Darvish today. He acts like a pitcher that knows he’s good and is getting ready for season.”
- Jason Parks (Baseball Prospectus & Texas Farm Review): “Another small sample, but easy to see that Darvish is a special pitcher, one capable of missing a lot of major league quality bats right out of the chute. He showed two types of fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, two types of curveballs (66 mph and 78-80 mph), a slider, a cutter, a straight-changeup, and a splitter. He showed the ability to miss barrels with all of them, even when his overall command was good but not great. His delivery is very clean and repeatable, so the command is going to be there. The stuff is electric and explosive, and with his preternatural ability to manipulate the baseball, can show multiple varieties of each pitch, changing the speed and shape at will. It’s really an incredible experience to see the ball come out of his hand and move around as it nears the zone. I’ve never seen anything like it. This is going to be fun.”
- Keri: “Carlos Quentin has played 616 regular-season games in the big leagues. He’s struck out 387 times. It’s possible that no pitcher has ever made him look worse than Yu Darvish did today.”
- Keith Law (ESPN): “Seven pitches is a lot for a starter in MLB – I understand it’s more common in Japan – but with the fastball, slider, cutter and splitter, he’d have one of the 10 best arsenals in the league, and should have the control and aggressiveness to get the most out of it.”
- Orlando Hudson (Padres second baseman): “I think he’ll do a hell of a job. He’s got seven pitches to embarrass you with. He’s like Nintendo up there. . . . They’re going back to the postseason. That’s a no-brainer.”
- Jerry Crasnick (ESPN): “Two spring training innings into his big league tenure, Darvish is already the closest thing out there to ‘appointment baseball.’”
- Me: Heyday David Cone, at about half a foot taller.
- Can’t remember the last time I hoped our offense was retired quickly in the first.
- Many observations re Yu’s 1st inning of work, the least relevant of which is that Carlos Quentin is looking very Gerald Laird suddenly.
- Eleven pages of the 100-page e-Book cover the multi-year process of scouting and acquiring Darvish. #11.
- Oh my, Mr. Splitty.
- From Matt Mosley (Fox Sports Southwest): The Rangers rookie pitcher is supremely confident, as evidenced by a story Jon Daniels told on 103.3 KESN-FM radio show Wednesday. Rangers top prospect Martin Perez recently asked Darvish how he fared in his first intra-squad scrimmage. Darvish told him he pitched “OK” and asked how Perez had done in his first outing. Perez smiled and said it only took him 12 pitches to complete his inning.
Darvish then instructed his translator to ask Perez how old he was.
Informed that Perez was 20, Darvish responded, “Tell him I already had a Cy Young by then.”
Darvish changed speeds, changed planes, and unbelievably changed the hype, somehow moving it even further off the charts. For a guy making his first appearance that sorta counted in a stateside uniform, there wasn’t a hint of nerves or panic. Instead, there was tons of presence, of swagger and stuff in heavy supply, as heavy as could ever be expected in such a microscopic sample, staged in what amounted to a formalized practice.
When Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz arrived, the anticipation was high, but we felt like we knew something about what we were going to see if things worked out the way they were supposed to, especially those of us who had seen them face AA hitters a little bit north in Dr Pepper Ballpark. The same will be true with Martin Perez.
When Cliff Lee arrived, the unknown was dependent only on how he’d feel about pitching for a team that he and his wife didn’t expect to land with.
Darvish is different, of course. We have a handful of highlights of him pitching against inferior competition in a part of the world where they use different baseballs and use their pitchers on different schedules and where others before him have dominated before coming here to different results.
The only recent equivalent I can think of is Stephen Strasburg’s 3.1 Phoenix Desert Dog innings against Buster Posey and the Scottsdale Scorpions on October 16, 2009. Still, Strasburg’s AFL competition that day wasn’t a big league lineup, and even if MLB Network aired it (can’t remember), the buzz and the scrutiny weren’t close to this. And neither was the unknown, even to the millions who tuned into one of those four networks at 5 a.m. on the other side of the world.
LeBron’s first pre-season game was probably a bigger deal, but maybe not. I guess that’s the comp.
None of what happened yesterday counted, and yet the attention those two innings generated probably exceeded what Opening Day will draw in some markets around the league a month from now. It didn’t really matter, but yeah, it sorta did.
The only disappointment, one that separates this from LeBron, is that we have to wait almost a week to see starting pitchers do their thing again.