Yu Darvish of the Rangers, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals are your choices from April as voting is under way to select the season's first Pitching Performance of the Month presented by Head & Shoulders.
This monthly award will be all about strikeout magic, part of the ongoing "Season of the #Whiff" campaign. Will you go with near-perfection during Opening Week? Or perhaps a single-game strikeout record for one of Major League Baseball's original franchises? Will you be swayed by one of those two 12-K blankings of Ryan Braun and the Brewers?
Here is a closer look at your candidates for April:
Darvish: April 2 at Houston
W, 8 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 14 K's, 0 BB
This was the only one of the four that was on the road, in the second game of that Opening Week introduction of new American League West and in-state rivals. It looked like this season was going to pick up right where the last one left off, with another perfect game after a 2012 that saw three of them.
Darvish set down the first 26 Astros in order and then fired a 91-mph four-seamer toward the plate. Marwin Gonzalez rifled it right back through the box and through Darvish's legs, and all the pitcher could do was smile. After all, he had whiffed 14. It was part of an overall club-strikeout record, too, because by whiffing 46 Astros in that series, Texas became the first team to strike out 43 batters in the first three games of a season.
"I went that far. ... I'm satisfied with that," Darvish said. "I was relaxed. I wanted to continue what I was doing in Spring Training, but I had a little more emotion."
Kershaw: April 28 vs. Milwaukee
W, 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 12 K's, 0 BB
How could he top his Opening Day four-hit shutout of the rival Giants? By finishing the month with a dominating performance of the Brewers, striking out 12 to finish one shy of his career high. It was Kershaw's 19th career game with at least 10 strikeouts. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 18 consecutive starts, the longest active streak in the Majors.
"Clayton was as good as I've ever seen him," Braun said that day. "There's no doubt he's one of the top pitchers in the game, if not the top pitcher. When a guy like that is on top of his game, commanding all of his pitches, you know you're in for a tough day."
Sanchez: April 26 vs. Atlanta
W, 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 17 K's, 1 BB
It's hard to say which was more amazing: That Sanchez struck out 17 in a game against the Braves, who were on fire at the time with the Majors' best record, or that it set a single-game record for a franchise that has been around since the AL was formed in 1901.
Not only did Sanchez get that revenge against his old division rival, he also shut them out for eight innings while topping the Tigers' record set by Mickey Lolich on May 23, 1969. Sanchez became the first pitcher in the Majors to strike out 17 in a game since Brandon Morrow on Aug. 8, 2010, and the first to do it in eight innings or fewer since fellow Venezuelan Johan Santana in 2007.
"I didn't think for the strikeout," Sanchez said. "I just tried to get a lot of ground balls, stay in the game for a lot of innings. That's what I work for."
Wainwright: April 13 vs. Milwaukee
W, SO, 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 12 K's, 0 BB
Making his first start at Busch Stadium since a news conference where his contract extension had been announced, "Waino" was his vintage self. He matched his career high with 12 strikeouts (11 swinging), making easy work of a Brewers club that at the time was hampered by injuries. That included three whiffs of Braun in as many at-bats.
Oh, by the way, Wainwright had three hits and drove in a couple of runs.
"That was exactly how you design pitching," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "This year, he's back to himself. He's healthy. I think he has evolved as a pitcher. I think seasons like last year teach you how to pitch more than just rely on stuff. He's expanding a little bit."
In addition to voting for the monthly award, you can be part of the Season of the #Whiff campaign around the clock. See a whiff, tweet a #Whiff to @HSforMen and you will have a chance to win cool prizes from your favorite team.