Yu Darvish's third big league season got off to a late start after a stiff neck forced him to be scratched from his opening day assignment. He was able to return to the mound on Sunday for the Rangers against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, however, and it didn't take him long to make an impact and officially etch his name in the history books.
Darvish entered the game two strikeouts shy of 500 for his career, and after starting the first inning by striking out David DeJesus and Wil Myers, he became the fastest player to reach that milestone in MLB history.
The previous record was held by Kerry Wood, who reached 500 strikeouts in 404 2/3 innings. Just hearing that name immediately raises questions about whether or not Darvish will be able to hold up over the long haul.
Wood, who debuted in 1998 at age 21, always seemed to battle to stay on the field after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 1999. Some blamed the 166-inning workload as a rookie for setting him back. Some blamed mechanics. But sometimes it's the fact that not all arms are created equal. Darvish has already logged 1,266 innings in Japan, in addition to the 401 and counting in MLB. That might be a little alarming, but his arm, for whatever reason, seems to be holding up just fine.
As for how a pitcher can accumulate so many strikeouts in a such a short time? Obviously, he has to have dominant stuff and good command, but above all else he has to have confidence. Considering Darvish changed professional leagues — moving from Nippon Professional Baseball to MLB — and countries in the prime of his career, he obviously has the necessary confidence. There wasn't a whole lot of time to prepare for new competition or make adjustments. He just had to believe his stuff was good enough to succeed.
So far, it has been plenty good.
After recording his 500th strikeout, Darvish had a career strikeout rate of 11.20 per nine innings pitched, which is a good number for a reliever but almost unheard for a starting pitcher given that they tend to wear down as the game goes along.
Another phenomenal stat that highlights Darvish's dominance: In 61 career starts prior to Sunday, he struck out 10 or more batters 20 times.
He's definitely lived up to the immense hype so far, and at just 27, it feels like the best is yet to come.
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