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Yu Darvish

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Sefat Farid Yu Darvish (ダルビッシュ 有)

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[edit] Biographical Information

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Yu Darvish is a starting pitcher with the Texas Rangers who has appeared in the Olympics and was a star for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for many years. He was widely heralded as the ace for the Fighters, as well as one of the top hurlers in Japanese baseball. He throws a 91-95 four-seam fastball (tops out at 98 mph), along with a low-80s slurve, cutter, shuuto (two-seamer), curveball, and a splitter. Though his slurve is noted to be of high quality, his command and control also have had continued development since his rookie season.

Yu's father is an Iranian businessman and former Iranian national soccer team member [1] while his mother is Japanese. Yu is their eldest son. Darvish first inspired interest in Japan in 2004 after pitching a no-hitter at the Koshien National High School Baseball Championship in his senior year for Tohoku High School, the school that also produced Major League and Japanese All-Star Kazuhiro Sasaki. Darvish played for Japan in the 2004 World Junior Championship, going 0-1 with a 7.11 ERA; he had the worst ERA on the team and took the loss in the Gold Medal game against Cuba and Yadier Pedroso. Darvish dominated the news when he was signed by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of the NPB in 2005 after being their first-round draft pick.

He received further press when he was caught smoking in a pachinko parlor on an off-day at his first Spring Training in 2005, despite being underage for both activities. The incident led to his subsequent suspension from his team and high school, as well as being ordered to give volunteer work. Despite his suspension, Darvish made his professional baseball debut later in the season. He went 5-5 with a 3.53 ERA for the Fighters that season.

In 2006, Darvish improved to 12-5, 2.89. He allowed 128 hits and struck out 115 in 149 2/3 IP. Nippon Ham won their first pennant in 25 years. Yu then helped the franchise win their first Japan Series since 1961, over the Chunichi Dragons. Darvish lost Game 1 to Chunichi ace Kenshin Kawakami, but the Fighters were able to overcome the loss and Darvish pitched the clinching Game 5 at the Sapporo Dome, a 4-1 victory. Darvish also won the championship game of the Asia Series, played between the league champions of Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea at the end of the 2006 season. He won the Most Valuable Player Award for that series, and is considered to be one of Japan's biggest rising stars. [2]

After Daisuke Matsuzaka signed for the Boston Red Sox and left Japan for the United States of America, attention focused on Yu Darvish to help keep up the popularity of baseball in Japan. As a young star in Japanese baseball, Darvish was expected to fill the void left by Matsuzaka’s departure. [3]. Unlike Matsuzaka, Darvish told the Japanese press that he had no intention of seeking a move to America anytime in the future. Four years later, he would change his mind. He threw a one-hitter against the Chiba Lotte Marines on July 6, 2007, the lone hit a single by Saburo Omura in the second inning. That month, Darvish was the subject of a racy picture profile in the womens' magazine Gramorous. He announced he would marry the actress Saeko later in the year.

Darvish won the Sawamura Award in 2007 after going 15-5 with a 1.82 ERA. He lost the PL ERA title by percentage points by Yoshihisa Naruse, was second to Hideaki Wakui in innings pitched (207 2/3), tied Toshiya Sugiuchi for third in wins, led in complete games (12), tied Sugiuchi for second in shutouts (3, one behind Naruse), led in hit batsmen (13) and led in strikeouts (210, 14 ahead of rookie star Masahiro Tanaka). Darvish became the first Sawamura Award winner ever from the Fighters franchise. He won a Gold Glove and made the Best Nine. He also won the MVP, following former teammate Michihiro Ogasawara in the PL. Darvish was the third-youngest MVP in Japanese history, following Eiji Sawamura and Kazuhisa Inao.

Darvish continued to shine in the postseason. He won game five of the Pacific League Climax Series to send the Fighters to the 2007 Japan Series over the Chiba Lotte Marines. In game one of the Series, he pitched a 4-hit, 1-run complete game and struck out 13, tying Kimiyasu Kudoh's record for a 9-inning stint in the history of the Japan Series. In game five, Darvish gave up only one run in 7 innings, but lost to the Chunichi Dragons when Daisuke Yamai and Hitoki Iwase combined on the first perfect game in Japan Series history. Darvish's 24 strikeouts were a record for a five-game Japan Series. He won the Fighting Spirit Award as the best player on the losing team in the Japan Series.

Darvish joined the Japanese national team for the 2007 Asian Championship. He was originally slated to start against South Korea in Game Two but manager Senichi Hoshino moved him to Game Three against Taiwan. Darvish allowed only 3 hits and 3 walks in 7 innings, striking out six. He gave up two runs, both on a homer to Chin-Feng Chen, and was credited with the win.

In the 2008 Olympics, Darvish was 0-1 with a 5.14 ERA; he fanned 10 but walked 5 in 7 innings of work. He took the loss against Norge Vera and the Cuban national team with a poor performance. He allowed a triple to Alexei Bell and RBI single to Alfredo Despaigne in the second; in the 4th, he gave up a Yulieski Gourriel double and Frederich Cepeda RBI single. Then, in the 5th, he walked Cepeda and allowed a Bell double before Yoshihisa Naruse relieved and gave up a 2-run single to Despaigne. He tossed two shutout innings against Team USA in the final game of the round-robin.

Darvish had another great season in 2008, going 16-4 with a 1.88 ERA. In 200 2/3 innings, he allowed only 136 hits while striking out 208 hitters. He again lost the PL ERA title by the slimmest of margins, .01 behind Hisashi Iwakuma. He was second in innings (one behind Iwakuma), second in wins (5 behind Iwakuma), led in complete games (10), tied for second in shutouts (2), was second in strikeouts (5 behind Toshiya Sugiuchi and was third in hit batsmen (9). Darvish signed a new deal following the season, worth 270 million yen annually; this was a new record for players with 4 years experience, breaking Norichika Aoki's one-year mark of 220 million yen.

Darvish was 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, allowing seven hits in 13 innings while fanning 20. He tied for second in the Classic in wins (one behind Daisuke Matsuzaka), tied for the most walks (6) and led in strikeouts (5 ahead of runner-up Iwakuma). Yu tossed four hitless shutout innings in a win over China. In his second start, he let the first four South Koreans reach and gave up 3 first-inning runs in a loss to Jung-keun Bong. He then was moved by Tatsunori Hara to the bullpen for the remainder of the series. He pitched the 9th inning of the semifinal win over Team USA, striking out Adam Dunn and David Wright and getting Derek Jeter, allowing only a Jimmy Rollins hit. Darvish was summoned to close the grand finale, with Japan leading South Korea 3-2. He struck out Keun-woo Jeong but walked Hyun-soo Kim and Tae-kyun Kim. He recovered to whiff Shin-soo Choo. Needing one more out, he gave up a Bum-ho Lee RBI single to blow the save. Now in danger of a loss, he fanned Young-min Ko. Japan scored twice in the top of the 10th. In the bottom of the 10th, he walked Min-ho Kang then struck out Jeong Choi. He got Yong-kyu Lee to fly out then fanned his fifth batter of the two-inning stretch, Keun-woo Jeong, to give Japan the WBC title.

Darvish had another big season in 2009. He was 15-5 with a 1.73 ERA before being sidelined at the end of September due to back problems. He led the PL in ERA, .57 ahead of runner-up Wakui. He was also among the leaders in wins (tied with Masahiro Tanaka and Toshiya Sugiuchi, one behind Wakui), innings (182, 4th), complete games (8, 2nd to Wakui), shutouts (2, tied for 3rd) and strikeouts (167, 4th). He was named to the PL Best Nine as the circuit's top pitcher and also won the MVP Award but lost the Sawamura Award to Wakui.

Darvish returned from a month and a half off to start game two of the 2009 Japan Series. He allowed two runs in six innings, both on a Yoshiyuki Kamei home run, before leaving and getting credit for the win. Nippon Ham fell to the Yomiuri Giants in six games; had the Series gone seven games, Darvish was slated to pitch the finale.

During his first few seasons, Darvish used Shinya Tsuruoka as practically a personal catcher.

Darvish was 12-8 with a 1.78 ERA in 2010. He became the 5th NPB hurler to start four Opening Days in a row and fanned 222 in 202 innings. His opponent average (.216) and WHIP (1.01) were still very good, though the highest they had been in four years. He became the first NPB hurler to have four ERAs in a row under 2 since Kazuhisa Inao five decades prior. He led the league in ERA (.69 over Masaru Takeda), complete games (10), strikeouts (four ahead of Sugiuchi), lowest opponent average and WHIP (.01 over Naruse). He also was third in innings (trailing Chihiro Kaneko and Naruse), tied for 8th in wins (with Bobby Keppel and Bill Murphy) and tied for third in shutouts (2). He lost Best Nine honors to Tsuyoshi Wada and the Sawamura Award to Kenta Maeda. He finished 5th in voting for the 2010 Pacific League Most Valuable Player Award, behind Wada, Sugiuchi, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hitoshi Tamura.

He was 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA, .190 opponent average and .83 WHIP in 2011. Offensive levels fell in Japan that year with a new baseball being used. Darvish allowed just five homers and 36 walks while striking out 276 in 232 innings. He finished second in ERA (0.17 behind Masahiro Tanaka), first in innings, third in wins (one behind Tanaka and D.J. Houlton), second in complete games (10, behind Tanaka), tied for first in shutouts (6, even with Tanaka), first in strikeouts (35 ahead of Tanaka), first in wild pitches (10), first in opponent average (.015 ahead of Sugiuchi) and first in WHIP (.04 ahead of Tanaka). He lost the Sawamura Award and Best Nine to Tanaka and was 6th in voting for the 2011 Pacific League Most Valuable Player Award, between Wada and Houlton.

During the 2011 season, speculation began to mount that Darvish would be the next big Japanese star to move to the United States. On December 8th, this was confirmed when Darvish announced that he had asked for his name to be placed on the posting system. His combination of age, talent and past success meant that he would likely attract one of the highest bids ever made through the system, approaching that made by the Boston Red Sox for Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006. He had been 93-38 with a 1.99 ERA and .98 WHIP in his NPB career to that point, with 1,259 whiffs in 1,268 1/3 innings. On December 19th, it was announced that the Texas Rangers had made the winning bid, at $51.7 million, breaking the record set when the Red Sox bid $51.1 million for Matsuzaka five years earlier. The Rangers came to an agreement with Darvish on a six-year, $60 million contract on January 18, 2012, as the 30-day negotiating period was about to expire.

Darvish attracted a huge amount of attention during spring training in 2012, as everyone wanted to see whether the Rangers' huge investment was justified. He seemed to be feeling the pressure during his first major league start on April 9th, facing the Seattle Mariners. He gave up four runs in the 1st inning, before settling down and then pitching into the 6th inning. His teammates picked him up, hitting four homers on the day, and he was given credit for Texas' 11-5 win for his first major league victory. He gave a better indication of what the Rangers' were shelling out the big money for in his third start, when he gave up only a pair of hits over 6 innings to earn a 10-3 win over the Detroit Tigers on April 19th. He was then dominant for the remainder of the month and won American League Rookie of the Month honors, thanks to a 4-0 record, a 2.18 ERA and 33 strikeouts. He suffered his first loss of the year on May 6th, bowing 4-2 to the Cleveland Indians. He made the All-Star team (but did not appear in the All-Star Game) and on August 28th, set a Texas rookie record with his 13th win when he defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 1-0, recording 10 strikeouts in the process, the 8th time he had reached double digits in strikeouts during the season. Only Nolan Ryan, with 18 in 1989, had ever pitched more such games in a season in team history. For his first MLB season, he had gone 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA, 221 strikeouts and 156 hits in 191 1/3 IP for a 116 ERA+. He pitched well in the 2012 American League Wild Card Game but was outdueled by Baltimore's Joe Saunders and the Rangers lost, 5-1. That loss ended the Rangers' season. He tied fellow Japanese hurler Hiroki Kuroda as well as Max Scherzer and Phil Hughes for 6th in the 2012 AL in wins. He also was among the leaders in winning percentage (7th), fewest hits per 9 innings (behind Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander), strikeouts (5th) and walks (89, 4th between C.J. Wilson and Justin Masterson).

Darvish flirted with perfection in his first start of the 2013 season on April 2nd against the Houston Astros. He retired the first 26 batters he faced, including 14 by strikeout, before giving up a single up the middle to Marwin Gonzalez with two outs in the 9th. As he had thrown 111 pitches by that point, manager Ron Washington removed him from the game in favor of reliever Michael Kirkman, who recorded the final out of the game after giving up another single. The Rangers won, 7-0. On May 5th, he struck out 14 Boston Red Sox batters, matching a career high; the Rangers won that game on a walk-off hit in the 9th, but Joe Nathan received credit for the victory. Yu was already leading the major leagues with 91 strikeouts when he matched his career-high with 14 in a start against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second game of a doubleheader on May 27th. However, he also gave up a two-run, game-tying homer to rookie Didi Gregorius in the 8th, and left with a no-decision as the Rangers got swept in the twinbill. He was philosophical in expressing his disappointment after the game, stating: "Baseball's not a competition about getting strikeouts. It's about winning." Darvish got to 105 strikeouts after 11 starts; the Elias Sports Bureau reported only three pitchers in AL history had gotten as many Ks in their first 11 starts: Sam McDowell (109, 1968), Roger Clemens (107, 1988) and Pedro Martinez (114, 117 and 121 from 1999-2001, not in that order). He finally ended his win drought on June 30th, when he defeated the Cincinnati Reds, 3-2. That win improved his record to 8-3, in spite of having gone winless since May 16th while continuing to pitch well. He was picked for the All-Star team for the second time, but had to skip the game as he was placed on the disabled list with fatigue in his right trapezius muscle on July 10th. On August 1st, he tied his career high by recording 14 strikeouts in a 7-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks for his 10th victory of the season. On August 12th, he set a new career record with 15 strikeouts over 8 innings when he once again made a bid for a perfect game against the Astros. This time, the end came with two outs in the 6th, when he and C A.J. Pierzynski thought they had struck out Jonathan Villar for the third out, but umpire Ron Kulpa begged to differ. Villar eventually drew a a walk and Pierzynski was ejected for letting Kulpa know of his disagreement with his call. Darvish kept the no-hitter going until one out in the 8th, when he gave up a solo homer to Carlos Corporan, which turned out to be the only hit of the game. He left after 8 innings and closer Joe Nathan tossed a hitless 9th to complete the 2-1, one-hit win. He finished the season at 13-9, 2.83 with 277 strikeouts, 145 hits and 80 walks in 209 2/3 IP, with a 145 ERA+. He was among the 2013 AL leaders in ERA (4th behind Anibal Sanchez, Bartolo Colon and Iwakuma), WHIP (tied for 4th with Chris Sale), hits/9 IP (lowest), strikeouts/9 (most, his 11.9 well ahead of #2 Scherzer's 10.1), strikeouts (1st by 37 over Scherzer), walks (tied for third with Ubaldo Jimenez) and ERA+ (tied with Scherzer for 2nd behind Sanchez).

Darvish ran into some health issues during spring training in 2014. A stiff neck that refused to heal quickly forced him to start the year on the disabled list; he had been scheduled to be the team's opening day starter for the first time. He made his debut on April 6th against the Tampa Bay Rays and when he fanned the first two batters of the game, David DeJesus and Wil Myers, he became the fastest starting pitcher to record 500 strikeouts, having needed only 401 2/3 innings; Kerry Wood held the previous record with 404 2/3 innings. Yu pitched 7 shutout innings to be credited with a 3-0 win that day. Darvish allowed 23 hits and fanned 72 in his first 7 starts against the Houston Astros; only two other pitchers had fewer than 25 hits and more than 70 whiffs in a seven-game stretch against a team in baseball history (according to the Elias Sports Bureau): Randy Johnson vs. the Oakland Athletics (1991-1993) and Pedro Martinez against the Seattle Mariners (1998-2000). On May 9th, Darvish again came within one out of putting his name in the history books, as he gave up a 9th-inning single to David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox with two outs in the 9th; Ortiz had broken his bid for a perfect game earlier in the game when his 7th-inning pop fly landed between 2B Rougned Odor and RF Alex Rios and Rios was charged with an error. Yu then gave up a pair of walks before facing Ortiz again in the 9th, but he pulled a clean single to the left of Odor, who was playing in the defensive shift typically used against Ortiz. Having thrown 126 pitches, he gave way to Alexi Ogando who retired Mike Napoli to complete the 8-0 one-hitter. He became only the third pitcher to lose two no-hitters with one out left; Dave Stieb (3 times) and Bill Burns had also done so. However, on May 14th, Major League Baseball reversed the decision of official scorer Steve Weller on Ortiz's 7th-inning blooper, ruling it a hit as well. In spite of the two remarkable near no-hitters, Darvish had yet to throw a complete game in the big leagues however. That changed on June 11th, when he pitched a complete game shutout over the Miami Marlins, 6 - 0. On August 13th, however, he was placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow; it was described as a minor issue, but the Rangers decided to be cautious with him given they were well out of the running for the postseason at that point.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 2012 Topps All-Star Rookie Team
  • 3-time AL All-Star (2012-2014)
  • AL Strikeouts Leader (2013)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (2012)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (2013)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 2 (2012 & 2013)

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