They altered the All-Star's arm slot and pitch selection. They tinkered with his mechanics in the hopes that the pitcher they traded for on July 31 would deliver in October.The Dodgers didn't want a new Yu. They wanted a better, simplified version. The plan worked.
On Monday night, the right-handed pitcher paced the Dodgers past the D-backs, 3-1, in Game 3 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile and into the National League Championship Series presented by Camping World, which starts Saturday in Los Angeles.
"He had command of all of his pitches and really the curveball is the only thing he didn't really throw tonight," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "He's been on nice roll and he's very confident in what he is doing. He has electric stuff and he's been unbelievable for us. We had a little glitch in the beginning, but I love where he is right now and he is really in tune with what he is doing."
The Dodgers welcome the improved Darvish. The team will play the winner of the NLDS between the Cubs and Nationals, with Clayton Kershaw expected to start Game 1 of the NLCS. Darvish will either pitch Game 2 on Sunday or Game 3 next Tuesday.
"What made me happy the most today is everyone was happy for me," Darvish said. "I pitched well today and everyone congratulated me, and that made me very happy. So I'm satisfied with that. We've still got eight more wins that I need to get. So, going forward, we need to keep working hard."
Darvish was charged with one run -- a home run by Daniel Descalso -- on two hits in five-plus innings. He struck out seven in the 74-pitch outing and at one point retired 13 D-backs hitters in a row. According to Statcast™, Darvish's two-seam fastball averaged 95.1 mph and his four-seamer averaged 94.9 mph, both marks above his season average.
"I was just trying to get on base, just trying to get something going," Descalso said. "He had been throwing all his pitches for strikes, mixing in cutter-sliders and throwing a 95-mph fastball. He just kept us off-balance, kept his pitches out of the middle of the plate and made pitches when he needed to."
This is the Darvish the Dodgers wanted all along. This Darvish watched the celebration in the visitors' clubhouse near the hallway away from the champagne showers in the middle of the room. The pitcher wanted to soak the victory in before he joined his teammates and was soaked. He shook hands with the coaching staff and hugged members of the front office.
And yes, Darvish eventually joined the celebration. He was wearing the protective goggles for a reason.
"Yu really stepped up huge for us," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "He was in command and control from the first pitch, working to both sides of the plate. The cutter was working really well, good velocity with the fastball and great command. It was just fun to watch him just have his nerves calm and just compete. He was out there having fun."
Darvish was nasty all night, but his last pitch was his scariest. He hit Christian Walker on the brim of the helmet with a pitch. Darvish was replaced by Tony Cingrani and watched the rest of the game from the bench.
With the victory, Darvish became the fourth pitcher from Japan to win a playoff game as a starter.
"Pitching on the road in the playoffs isn't comfortable for anybody," Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said. "He embraced the challenge and obviously, the results spoke for themselves."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.