Yu Darvish did not dominate the Arizona Diamondbacks the way he had the New York Mets in his Dodgers debut. He repeatedly struggled to locate his fastball within the strike zone Thursday night, staking 10 Diamondbacks to advantageous 2-and-0 counts.
What Darvish displayed at Chase Field was still dominance — only of a different sort. When he needed to throw a strike to avoid a walk, he pumped a strike. When the situation dictated he elicit a swing-and-miss, he extorted a swing-and-miss. It’s more torturous to be beaten by an opponent not at his best, more disheartening to be defeated by a competitor so clearly procrastinating. The Diamondbacks lost, 8-6, to a notably imperfect but unarguably effective Darvish.
“When he’s obviously not at his best and still goes five innings, strikes out 10,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “that’s obviously encouraging.”
Arizona trotted out a rookie left-hander named Anthony Banda, who was making his third career start. Banda, the organization’s top prospect, turned 24 on Thursday. His celebration did not last long, as Corey Seager shot the game’s first hit to right in the first inning.
Justin Turner then smashed a ball right to Diamondbacks shortstop Ketel Marte, who could not glove it. Logan Forsythe battled back from a 1-and-2 count to draw a two-out walk. Enrique Hernandez, also on a 1-and-2 pitch, dropped his swing to greet a low curveball and drive it into left field.
His bases-loaded double scored three runs.
At once it was clear that Darvish was not wielding his standard command. In the first inning, he threw three consecutive balls to begin at-bats against David Peralta, A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt, and two to Jake Lamb. The third pitch to Lamb also was below the zone, but Lamb chased it. Arizona chased often. Peralta singled, but Pollock and Goldschmidt struck out swinging and Lamb flied out to center.
After Darvish set the Diamondbacks down in order in the second, Ketel Marte started the third with a walk. Banda bunted him over, and a wild pitch allowed Marte to take third. He scored when Forsythe, the Dodgers second baseman, could not field a Peralta grounder in time. Darvish next missed with his first pitch but still struck out Pollock. He then left a cutter over the middle to Lamb, who ripped it to right field, where Forsythe was perfectly positioned in a shift.
After he struck out Goldschmidt to begin the fourth, Darvish missed high with a fastball to J.D. Martinez, who launched an opposite-field home run. Two more singles moved the go-ahead run to first base with two outs when Arizona manager Torey Lovullo pinch-hit Brandon Drury for Banda.
Darvish found pinpoint command. He spun two tempting sliders just below the zone, then hurled a fastball just above it. Drury swung and missed on all three pitches.
Chris Taylor ambushed Arizona reliever Jake Barrett in the fifth, walloping his first pitch four rows into the left-field stands. A walk, an error and two infield singles supplied the Dodgers two more runs.
Darvish issued another walk to begin the bottom of the fifth. As Pedro Baez warmed, Darvish nixed his fastball and introduced a slow curve into his pitch mix on the suggestion of pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and struck out Pollock and Lamb. He then benefited from a borderline call on a slider to strike out Goldschmidt. In one motion, Darvish pumped his fist up and lowered his glove, the incongruous celebration symbolizing his evening — inexact but forceful.
“I struggled to throw first-pitch strikes,” Darvish said through an interpreter. “It was a battle throughout the game.”
In his labor-intensive five innings, Darvish walked two and struck out 10. No pitcher before him had struck out 10 in each of his first two starts with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Darvish’s 106 pitches were his most since June 7. It had been more than three years since he had thrown that many pitches in five innings or fewer.
In the Dodgers’ half of the sixth, Turner doubled in two runs.
Chris Iannetta matched that in the bottom of the inning with a home run against Brock Stewart, one of five Dodgers relievers. Arizona managed two more runs against Brandon Morrow in the eighth, but Tony Cingrani helped him out of a jam. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth, securing his 30th save and Darvish his second victory as a Dodger.
The remaining question was why had Darvish not lessened his fastball usage earlier in the game.
“That,” Roberts said, “is a conversation that might be had.”
Follow Pedro Moura on Twitter @pedromoura