One of 2012's most enigmatic pitchers, Yu Darvish was a machine on Tuesday night against the Astros, retiring 26 straight hitters before Marwin Gonzalez singled up the middle to ruin the perfect game. His 14 Ks would have tied Matt Cain and Sandy Koufax for the most in a perfect game, but the other parts of the outing were much more surprising.
First, his great control is a sharp contrast from last season, where his walk + HBP rate was the fourth-highest in the majors. Aside from a shaky first inning, Darvish threw at least two-thirds strikes in every inning afterward. His four-seamer was the only high-use pitch with a low strike rate, atypical for a young pitcher, missing in all directions. He pounded the zone with his cutter, which he threw the most of any pitch.
His slider was as unhittable as any pitch I've seen in a while. First, it has a foot of sweep on it, something usually reserved for sidearmers like Sergio Romo. His location wasn't great, as ten of them were in the top-middle part of the plate, usually a sign of a long day for a pitcher. In all, he had 7 whiffs in 16 swings at the pitch, only surpassed by his hard curve, which got 5 whiffs in 7 swings.
Possibly a nod to his adaptability, Darvish threw his cutter the most out of any pitch on this night. Unlike most cutters, his actually had almost four inches of glove-side action, averaging 91 MPH. He was able to get 10 whiffs on 28 swings, a huge mark for a hard pitch. It was his main pitch against lefties, as he mixed in everything else in small amounts. Against righties, he was all sliders, four-seamers, and cutters.
If no walks and 14 Ks isn't good enough, he also got 69% groundballs in the game, leaving him with a 0.02 xFIP for the night. His cutter was the only pitch hit somewhat in the air, allowing two line drives and two flyballs out of nine balls in play. His stuff does not lend itself to a high GB rate, and he doesn't live at the knees, so don't expect this trend to continue.
There were a couple of red flags coming into this season for the 26-year-old: the "sophomore slump" and his high walk rate. After one start, likely one of the two worst teams in the league at that, both of those worries should be subsided. Darvish has unique and filthy stuff, which should lead to tremendous results and a route to being the ace of the Rangers.