Darvish’s Workload & Elbow Knee
Update Saturday morning, Pacific Daylight Time: Darvish did make a return to the mound, and a triumphant one, with a line of 7 IP 7 K 1 BB 3 H 0 ER and the win. And he only threw 84 pitches, his lowest total this season. His fastball velocity was a little more variable than normal but the results were there. Nippon Ham finally scored a few runs for Darvish, and won 9-0.
Edit Friday night, Pacific Daylight Time: commenter “Tannin” pointed out that I confused the Japanese word for knee (“hiza”) with the word for elbow (“hiji”). It was in fact Darvish’s knee that kept him off the mound, which is obviously way less of a concern than his elbow would have been. The commentary about Darvish’s workload still applies, so this post wasn’t a total waste. I just wish I had caught the mistake before a few thousand readers saw it.
I didn’t post anything beyond a tweet about this at the time, but Yu Darvish missed his scheduled start last week with discomfort in his throwing elbow right knee. Darvish is apparently ok, and he’s due to make his next start on June 12th against Chunichi. According to Daily Sports, Nippon Ham is going to settle on a six-day rotation, so we can expect to see Darvish every Saturday.
Darvish has a track record of heavy workloads, but this year he’s taken it up a notch. According to the data I collected (which is not totally complete for last year, but is for this year), Darvish’s busiest outing last year was his 135-pitch start against Rakuten on August 7. This season, Darvish has thrown 135 or more pitches in six of his 11 starts, topping out at 156 on May 8, also against Rakuten. And that start was preceded by a 150-pitch outing against Seibu.
Nippon Ham seems to be concerned about this pattern, and early in the season announced that they would limit Darvish to 120 pitches per start. At the time, I thought this was a very forward-thinking move for an NPB team, particularly since it could have the positive side-effect of forcing Darvish to become more economical with his pitches. They haven’t had the discipline to stick with the limit though, as he’s surpassed 120 pitches in six of his eight starts made since the announcement.
Darvish has been relatively healthy throughout his pro career, with the exception of the time he missed late last season with a miscellany of injuries. He’s shown to be capable of going deep in to starts, as evinced by the fact that he tends to maintain consistent velocity in his outings. But given his workload in the past and in particular this season, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow when the phrase ‘elbow discomfort’ is uttered (though in this case it wasn’t). It’ll be interesting to see how he’s used this season, particularly if Nippon Ham fails to get into contention for a playoff spot.