Yu Darvish has the ability to become the first pitcher in more than a decade to join the 300-strikeout club in a season, manager Ron Washington said.
But Washington has higher hopes for Darvish. He’d like to see his staff ace do something that’s never been done before.
“I’d like him to throw one pitch and get three outs,” Washington said, grinning. “And then come back the next inning and throw one pitch and get three outs. That’s what I’d like.”
In reality, Washington would just like to see Darvish become a more economical pitcher. If that happens, Darvish will pitch deeper in games, and there will be less hysteria over his pitch counts.
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Washington received a fair amount of criticism after allowing Darvish to throw 130 pitches over eight innings in a 10-4 victory over Detroit last May. Over his 32 starts, Darvish threw an average of 107.8 pitches per game, fourth-most in the majors.
Darvish has shown signs this spring of attempting to get more outs through weak contact rather than strike outs. The latest example came Monday afternoon when Darvish held the Reds to two runs over five innings with no walks and one strikeout.
Darvish threw 63 pitches on the day, averaging 12.6 per inning. Last season, he averaged 16.5 pitches per inning, the 12th-most in the American League.
“He’s throwing his game using the fastball and putting it over the plate and commanding it a little more,” Washington said. “That means they’re going to be swinging a little quicker.”
Darvish said his goal is to throw more innings this season, and lowering his pitch count is the easiest way for him to accomplish that. He had one one-pitch out and three two-pitch outs Monday.
The goal for Darvish is to find the line between pitching to contact and going for a strikeout. He is known as a strikeout pitcher and understands he will have to rely on that in certain situations — but maybe not every situation.
“I really don’t know what pitching style I’m going to have this season,” Darvish said. “I know there is a lot of talk about my pitch counts, and I’m aware that the team wants me to throw a lot of innings.
“There will be many games like this where I probably will throw a lot of pitches to let them hit, and there will be situations where I go for a strikeout. If I can control that, I think I’m going to have a really fun season.”
Darvish is coming off a successful season, finishing as runner-up in the AL Cy Young and leading the majors in strikeouts. He threw 209 2/3 innings, almost 20 more innings than his rookie season.
Darvish would like to continue to progress in his third season and is working on fastball command this spring. He went into the game with intentions of throwing mostly two-seam fastballs, and it worked well early on with three perfect innings.
But Darvish gave up single runs in the fourth and fifth, saying the hitters caught up to his two-seam fastballs.
“It was an experiment I was trying to do in this game,” Darvish said. “So I don’t think I’ll do that from the next game on.”
Experimenting is what spring training is for, and Darvish went on to explain that he is pitching at only a 70-80 percent effort level. That will pick up in his final three starts this spring before he’s on the mound Opening Day against the Phillies on March 31.
Just don’t expect to see a triple play on the first pitch, as Washington dreamed.
Yu Darvish by the numbers in 2013
16.5 pitches per an inning, ranking 22nd out of 81 pitchers
107.8 pitches per game, fourth-most in the majors
4.10 pitches per plate appearance, third-most in the majors
130 pitches, a season-high, on May 16 vs. Detroit
3,451 total pitches thrown