PEORIA, Ariz. — Yu Darvish was slated to throw four innings in a simulated game on a Peoria Sports Complex back field on Saturday. But those four innings went so smoothly, Darvish figured, hey, why not a fifth?
So the veteran right-hander asked Padres pitching coach Larry Rothschild for another inning. Darvish’s wish was granted, and sure enough, he breezed through the frame. Like he did for the rest of his outing on Saturday. Like he’s done all spring.
As things stand, Darvish is breezing his way toward an Opening Day start in San Diego.
The Padres have yet to make an announcement regarding their Game 1 starter, but it’ll almost certainly be Darvish. If he continues on his current every-sixth-day progression, Darvish would be lined up to face the D-backs on April 1 at Petco Park.
Darvish says he’d be happy to accept whatever role is handed to him — and the Padres certainly have their share of alternative options for Opening Day, including Blake Snell, who is in line to pitch Game 2. But at this point in his career, the 34-year-old Darvish says it would be especially gratifying to be entrusted with the opener.
“You don’t know how long you’re going to be able to play this game,” Darvish said through an interpreter. “It could possibly be a last chance. That said, it would be meaningful.”
Darvish has started one other Opening Day — for the Rangers in 2017. He pitched 6 1/3 innings against Cleveland, allowing four runs.
Darvish was an ace back then, but he called himself “a completely different pitcher” in 2021. Nowhere is that more evident than in his arsenal. Darvish boasts a pitch mix that he says reaches into double digits. He’s routinely experimenting and rarely pitches according to a script.
This version of Darvish might be the best version of Darvish. He said as much earlier this spring. A season ago, Darvish posted a 2.01 ERA and finished second in National League Cy Young Award voting.
Darvish’s penchant for experimentation was on full display on Saturday, when he mixed in a 61-mph curveball to Webster Rivas. On several occasions, Darvish called out which pitch he was about to throw — and still didn’t allow a hit on any of them.
It’s impossible to put a line on Darvish’s outing. Such is the nature of sim games — without baserunners and without defenders. But based on the results called out by Rothschild, Darvish threw five scoreless innings. (That’s perhaps a bit generous, as Tucupita Marcano may have laced a run-scoring double with two outs in the third inning, but Rothschild ended the inning instead.)
Still, it was the latest dominant showing from Darvish, who hasn’t allowed a run in the Cactus League this spring. He’s been so impressive, the Padres were content to skip his turn in the rotation and allow prospect Ryan Weathers, who’s competing for a roster spot, to face the Dodgers instead.
Darvish appreciated the change of pace, and he took full advantage. Between innings, he spent time chatting with the hitters he’d just faced, asking for feedback.
“Just a good environment,” said Darvish, who arrived in a December trade with the Cubs. “Some laughs here and there with the hitters. It was a really good day.”
Darvish has been having “really good days” all spring. One more of those — presumably next Friday against the Mariners — and Opening Day might be next.