Mac Engel

With Dodgers, Darvish found the team he needs

Standing in the middle of the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse it’s visible that Yu Darvish has found his ideal home, which is the most lavish house in Major League Baseball.

On the Texas Rangers, Darvish was special. He was their hope. And he knew it.

On the Los Angeles Dodgers, Darvish is another player. And he knows it.

Despite some talk that the Rangers would welcome Darvish back when he becomes a free agent this winter, he’s not returning.

There will be no “Rangers Discount.”

The only plausible scenario of a Darvish return is if the winter free-agent market collapses and the Rangers grab him at the last moment. Which is not happening.

He knows life as a big leaguer, and he is learning that as a big league pitcher there is no better place than the National League in Dodger Stadium.

On Wednesday night, Darvish will make his home debut for his new team. Since being traded by Texas to L.A. for three minor leaguers, he’s 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 20 strikeouts over 12 innings.

If he can’t succeed in the game’s biggest moments now, he never will. The Dodgers are not asking him to be anything other than what he is, which is good. The Rangers were asking him to be something he was not.

If the Dodgers do not win the World Series this year, it will not be merely a Darvish bust. It will be a bust the likes of which pro sports has never seen.

“He just has to be himself. Nothing more,” Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez told me on Sunday afternoon after yet another Dodgers’ win. “He will be one of the pieces to help get us to where we want to go. He is not expected to come in here and be the ace. ‘Kersh’ is the ace.”

At present, left-hander and the pride of Dallas Highland Park, Clayton Kershaw, remains on the 10-day disabled list with back issues. He is expected back where he will resume his role as the No. 1 ace on the most expensive team in baseball.

What Darvish has joined is the single most expensive team ever assembled. The Dodgers’ payroll of $256 million is $30 million higher than the New York Yankees.

An entire book has been written about the Dodgers’ futility of spending money yet failing to World Series, “The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse” by Molly Knight.

The Dodgers have not been to a World Series since 1988. Then Kirk Gibson hit a home run, pitcher Orel Hershiser could not be hit, and the Dodgers upset the heavily-favored Oakland Athletics in five games.

These Dodgers are 83-34, and could potentially break the record for wins in a season set by the 2001 Mariners and 1906 Cubs, when both won 116. Neither team won the World Series.

The Dodgers did not need Darvish, but the team is taking zero chances.

“A move like that coming from a front office is a push all the chips in, we’re behind you. It’s huge,” reliever Brandon Morrow said. “You acquire that talent and it’s for you, but it means you also don’t have to face that talent.”

No one has ever questioned Darvish’s talent. It’s both God given, and harnessed and enhanced through his own efforts.

The question about Darvish, established with the Rangers, was his ability on the game’s biggest stage to put a team on his arm and win a game by himself. To make a 1-0 lead enough. That is what the best starters in the game do, and it was just something that consistently eluded him.

Often a victim of erratic run support, he too had a terrible tendency to blink. Or to rack up such high pitch counts that the manager had no choice but to pull him.

My contention is that mentally something was missing.

As a member of the Dodgers, he will pitch behind Kershaw. Or should. And the Dodgers rank fifth in MLB in runs scored. And the Dodgers play in the pitcher-friendly park that is Dodger Stadium.

There is no reason not to win.

“No. 1, we have a good team. We had a good team before we got him,” Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt told me.

If anyone knows what this transition is like, it’s Honeycutt. In 1983, Honeycutt was leading the American League in ERA for the Rangers and dealt to the second-place Dodgers. The Dodgers wanted him because they thought he would be the guy to catch the division-leading Atlanta Braves.

(BTW: The player-to-be-named later in that deal was pitcher Dave Stewart, who would later go on to post four consecutive 20-win seasons, and win a World Series MVP. OK, so that was in Oakland, but the point is the Rangers at one time acquired a dominant starting pitcher.)

After starting 2-0 with the Dodgers, Honeycutt suffered an injury, but the Dodgers caught the Braves and reached the NLCS before losing to Philadelphia.

He’s been on this similar Darvish path, and was sold as “The Guy.” The Dodgers are not advertising Darvish as that.

“It’s also going to help him by changing leagues. He saw the National League a little bit, but they had not seen him on a regular basis,” Honeycutt said. “He doesn’t have to come in here and be anything other than a piece.

“This is a guy who already made the hardest transition he’s going to make and that’s moving from Japan to the U.S. That’s a lot harder than going from one team to another.”

In talking to the members of the Japanese media out here in L.A. now, they seem to think Darvish is content and his family likes it. There is virtually nothing not to like.

“Especially right now,” Morrow said.

All Darvish needs to do, per the Dodgers, is to be himself. On this team, that had better be enough. On the Rangers, it wasn’t.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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