Yu Darvish of the San Diego Padres reacts after pitching a scoreless seven innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on September 2, 2022. (TBEN)
Reaching his milestone of 3,000th strikeout in elite pro league Friday, Yu Darvish reflected on how fun as a kid in Japan’s rigid baseball culture bending the ball made him the pitcher he is today.
Darvish joined Hideo Nomo as only the second pitcher with 3,000 pro strikeouts and 1,000 each in Japan and MLB.
Famous in MLB for confusing hitters with a wide range of pitches, Darvish said breaking pitches became his passion from an early age.
“Ever since I started playing baseball, I’ve been obsessed with breaking pitches,” he said after pitching the San Diego Padres to a 7-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As a boy from an international family in Japan’s authoritarian youth baseball culture, Darvish didn’t just want to pitch by the book as he was told.
“In high school, I was rarely allowed to pitch, so pitching was a big deal for me,” he said. “It seemed a shame to be so serious and throw everything low and away. Because I wanted to have fun trying different things, my starting point was to let the ball break.”
Ryunosuke Seno, a youth coach from the Osaka area who led the winners of the national championships, said that the local coaches did not appreciate Darvish during his senior year of high school because he wanted to go his own way and refused to throw when he was injured.
“I asked people… and they said, ‘He (Darvish) is quick to say he feels pain. He doesn’t listen,’ said Seno. ‘They said, ‘If he goes to a higher level, he gets crushed.’ But he came from an international family and his education was different.”
Rather than get crushed, Darvish thrived in high school and as a pro, where his fascination with moving the ball made it difficult for his first pitching coach, Mike Brown, to get him to throw his four-seam fastball.
Darvish started throwing the big fastball more and in the middle of the 2006 season he went from solid to dominant, helping the Pacific League’s Nippon Ham Fighters to the pennant. Yet he has never escaped his love for variety.
“It allows me to change the way I throw. It’s all because of my (old) fascination with breaking balls,” he said. “I can become a completely different pitcher in the middle of the game. That’s my strength.”
But even with 3,000 pro strikeouts, Darvish said, they’re not his focus.
“Now that I can throw more pitches with subtle differences, and my command improves, I can pitch in more different ways,” he said. “Getting a strikeout feels great, but what I enjoy more is that I can finish six or seven innings in a good way.”
Yu Darvish of the San Diego Padres takes on the Los Angeles Dodgers in a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, on September 2, 2022. (TBEN)
Baseball: Yu Darvish strikes out 3,000th career in win over Dodgers