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Here’s why Dodgers’ trade for Yu Darvish looks smart as they face Astros in World Series

Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish reacts after striking out a Diamondbacks batter to end the fourth inning in Game 3 of the NLDS on Oct. 9.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

When Rick Honeycutt was a major league pitcher, he owned Barry Bonds, holding him to one hit in 12 at-bats. But he couldn’t get Don Baylor out, the former Angel reaching him for five home runs and 10 runs batted in over 39 at-bats.

So the Dodgers pitching coach is well versed in the intricacies, and insanities, of pitcher-batter matchups.

“There’s certain guys, as long as I got my ball pretty much in the right area, you felt pretty good about it. [And] there were always those guys that could do damage,” Honeycutt said this week. “For me, it was control the damage. But a lot of that is that psychological side. Like ‘I struggled against this guy’ and you end up struggling to get your pitch in there.”

Honeycutt’s Dodgers boss, manager Dave Roberts, can relate. He lit up Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, but didn’t manage a hit in 12 tries against journeyman John Thomson.

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“Sometimes there’s that [mental] component,” Roberts said. “And it works both ways as far as the psyche of the hitter or the pitcher, with success or not having success against a particular pitcher or hitter.”

Both Honeycutt and Roberts hope that the confidence factor will work to the Dodgers’ advantage in the World Series. The four starters they expect to use — Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood — have pitched well against Houston, holding current Astros to a .197 batting average with 95 strikeouts in 305 career at-bats.

Darvish, the Dodgers’ Game 3 starter, has the most experience against Houston, having pitched five seasons for the Astros’ cross-state rival, the Texas Rangers. He has nearly twice as many strikeouts as hits allowed — 118 to 65— against Houston’s lineup. The right-hander has started against the Astros 14 times and has a record of 5-5 with a 3.44 earned-run average — all as a member of the Rangers.

Darvish is also 4-1 with a 2.16 ERA in six starts at Minute Maid Park, one reason the Dodgers are having him start the first game in Houston. The Astros have hit just .139 against Darvish at home.

Yu Darvish is 4-1 with a 2.16 ERA in six starts at Minute Maid Park, one reason the Dodgers are having him start the first game in Houston. The Astros have hit just .136 against Darvish at home.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press )

Hill also has good numbers against Houston, going 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA in 10 games — including 3-0, 1.19 at Minute Maid Park. But he’s thrown just 6 1/3 innings there since 2007.

In most cases, familiarity works to the hitters’ benefit, Roberts and Honeycutt said. Less familiarity helps the pitcher.

“The advantage is always with the pitcher if they haven’t seen a lot of him,” Honeycutt said. “Looking at him and then seeing him live, it’s always different. Then you have to make adjustments.”

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Those adjustments can change everything, making past success or failure irrelevant. Roberts noted that Hill and Darvish, who will start Games 2 and 3 of the World Series, each has made significant changes in approach.

“If you look at what Rich has done, how he’s evolved a little bit, I kind of understand that it’s still a fastball-curveball mix, but he’s changed some things. And with Yu, you can say the same thing,” Roberts said. “So it still comes down to pitch execution.

“Where our guys are throwing — have been throwing for quite some time — I think we feel pretty confident.”

Said Honeycutt: “When you haven’t faced somebody you either make your pitches or you don’t. If you get [a batter] out a certain way in the past and he’s now just looking basically for that pitch or that area, that’s one thing that you have to key in on.

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“I think Maddux put it best. It’s like, ‘This guy, I basically feel good about. This guy I don’t.’ So during the course of the game, depending on the situation, you’re more cautious with this guy and feel better about the guy behind him.”

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The Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series

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Dave Roberts Talks Rich Hill and Kenley Jansen pitching in Game 6 On Now

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Dave Roberts talks preparing for Game 7 On Now

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Rich Hill talks about Game 6 of the World Series On Now

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11


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