Darvish whirls best with early strikes

Kevin Jairaj/US Presswiree

Yu Darvish is tied for the major-league lead in wins after improving to 6-1 with a win Wednesday against the Athletics.Yu Darvish picked up his sixth win of the season, tied for most in the majors, as the Texas Rangers beat the Oakland Athletics 4-1.

Darvish has struck out at least seven batters in each of his last five starts after striking out 14 and walking 13 in his first three starts. That’s the longest streak off seven-strikeout games by a Rangers' pitcher since Bobby Witt in 1987.

Yu Darvish This Season

The key for Darvish has been the most important pitch in baseball – strike one. When he throws a strike on the first pitch to a batter, they hit .146 and strikeout nearly eight times as often as they walk. A 1-0 count leads to a .308 average and more walks than whiffs.

Over his first three starts, Darvish fell behind in the count more often than not. He threw first-pitch strikes to only 42 of 88 batters (48 percent). In his most recent five starts, he has upped that percentage to 60 percent (84 of 139). On Wednesday, he threw a strike on the first pitch to 17 of 28 hitters, right at his average over his last five starts.

This has allowed him to rely less on his fastball and slider and more on his changeup and curveball. In his first three starts, nearly half of his pitches were fastballs and opposing hitters hit .343 against his heat. He was forced to go with the fastball when he fell behind in the count, recording 11 walks and just three strikeouts on the pitch in his first three starts.

In his last five starts, he has used the fastball just over a third of the time while unveiling a changeup that he didn’t throw in the first three contests and increasing his curveball frequency from 11 percent to 17 percent.

For the season, opposing hitters have only 3 hits in 38 at-bats (.079) and have struck out 24 times against his curveball. That’s the most strikeouts that he has recorded with any pitch, even though it’s only the fourth-most used pitch in his arsenal.

Around the Diamond

Adam Jones hit a game-winning home run in the 15th inning as the Baltimore Orioles won in Kansas City. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first major leaguer with two game-winning home runs in the 15th inning or later in the same season since 1988. That year, Mark McGwire hit game-winners in the 16th inning of back-to-back days in July.

• Also from our friends at Elias, Jamie Moyer became the oldest player to drive in a run in a game. Julio Franco was nearly six months younger when he drove in his final run in 2007.

Gio Gonzalez gave up his first home run of the season after 48⅓ innings. He was the last qualified starter – meaning a minimum of one inning pitched per team game – to allow a homer this year.

Lee Singer contributed to this post.