Yu Darvish must have really enjoyed the time off from the All-Star break. Two starts into the second half of the season and he hasn’t allowed a run in 12 innings while striking out 15 and only walking just one. But what has been most promising, in my opinion, are the two different ways in which he has been successful.
In his July 12 start against the Pirates, Darvish mixed his pitches extremely well, throwing sliders, curveballs or cutters 53% of the time. He was also able to generate 12 whiffs between these three pitches, leading to six strikeouts. Lefties were particularly susceptible to low and inside stuff, frequently swinging over the top.
The command Darvish exhibited over his horizontal movement was a sight to behold, and he leaned on it heavily en route to dominating the Pirates.
His success Wednesday against the Reds came from throwing a lot more fastballs early in the count, then putting batters away with his cutter. Batters were left frozen when Darvish threw his cutter in the zone, having guessed incorrectly (he managed five called strikes on the cutter). After throwing 44% fastballs in that earlier start, Darvish was at 59% with nine swinging strikes in his most recent effort.
His average fastball velocity was around the highest it had been all season, with Darvish reaching back for 98 mph on his last pitch of the game, a strikeout of Yasiel Puig. With command and control of all his pitches and his velocity at a season high, hitters didn’t know what to expect. And it was just the second time in three games that Darvish didn’t walk a batter, so when hitters were fooled they ended up looking at strikes.
In his first start after the break, Darvish relied on his breaking pitches to be successful. In his second, he was firing his fastball with positive results. Throwing the right kind of strikes means not allowing a home run in either start after surrendering nine dingers in five starts prior to the break.
With a confident Darvish commanding a much improved pitch mix, the Cubs may have the ace they need in the second half of the season.