Aug. 29: Via Acee, Darvish said after last night’s game that he was awaiting results from an MRI but is optimistic that he’ll be able to return to the Padres in 2023.
Aug. 28: The Padres announced that right-hander Yu Darvish has been placed on the 15-day injured list, retroactive to August 26, due to right elbow inflammation. Righty Matt Waldron was recalled in a corresponding move.
At this point, it’s unclear what kind of absence the club is expecting from Darvish. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the righty had spoken of fatigue after his start on Friday, though there hasn’t been any kind of firm update from the team. Even if the issue is minor, the calendar figures to be a factor, with just over a month remaining on the schedule.
It’s been a frustrating season for both Darvish and the Padres, with the overall results misaligned with the underlying numbers in both cases. For Darvish as an individual, he has a 4.56 earned run average on the year, a big jump from last year’s 3.10 figure. But his 24.6% strikeout rate and 7.5% walk rate are both above league average. However, his .319 batting average on balls in play and 71.3% strand rate are both significantly less fortunate than last year’s marks of .250 and and 78.2%. His rate of fly balls leaving the yard also jumped from 9.6% to 13.5%.
His 4.04 FIP suggests he’s been better than his ERA might indicate, but that’s likely little comfort to him or the Padres, as the whole club has been undercut by a similar discrepancy this year. Their +53 run differential is the fifth-best in the National League, and yet they have a record of 61-70 that places them eight games out of a playoff spot, well behind several clubs with far worse run differentials.
It’s not the season that was hoped for in San Diego, as they spent aggressively this offseason to try to build off a strong 2022 campaign that saw them reach the NLCS. Part of that aggressive spending was giving Darvish a six-year, $108MM extension that runs through 2028, which will be his age-41 season. Though the Friars were likely aware that could hurt them in the long run, they wanted to lock him up while he was still throwing well and the club’s competitive window seemed to be wide open.
There’s still some time for the club to salvage the season but the odds are against them, with FanGraphs giving them just a 2.5% chance of cracking the playoffs at this point. Despite a somewhat down season from Darvish, losing him to the IL for the next couple of weeks isn’t ideal, as Joe Musgrove is already on the IL and could be shut down if the club doesn’t get back in the race. Since Darvish won’t be eligible to return until mid-September, perhaps the same is true of him, though that’s not clear at this point.
For now, the Padres will proceed with a rotation of Blake Snell, Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha and Pedro Avila, with one opening available. Rich Hill’s last appearance was out of the bullpen but perhaps he will be slotted back into the rotation. Waldron has been starting in the minors and could be another option and the same goes for Jay Groome, who is on the 40-man.
Looking to the long-term, a bounceback from Darvish next year will be key for the Padres, as there’s plenty of uncertainty in their rotation. Snell and Hill are set to become free agents while Lugo and Wacha both have contract options that could lead to them hitting the open market as well. That leaves Musgrove and Darvish the two building blocks with three potential openings.