SAN DIEGO — Yu Darvish said he never envisioned himself as an ace until recently.
Well, nothing says it more than 1,500 strikeouts in 197 career starts.
Darvish struck out 11 in six brilliant innings to become the fastest big leaguer to reach 1,500 for his career, Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth homered and the San Diego Padres beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-2 on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series between the NL West rivals.
“Since I’ve come here I’ve had my ups and downs, but the reason why I’m sitting here being able to talk about reaching 1,500 strikeouts is definitely because of all the support I have been given since I started my career here,” said Darvish, who came to the majors in 2012 after spending seven seasons in his native Japan.
“Just from the bottom of my heart I’m really thankful and grateful for all the support I’ve been given through the years,” said Darvish, who turns 35 on Aug. 16.
Darvish (7-2) reached 1,500 strikeouts on the nose in 197 starts. He held the Dodgers to two hits, including Mookie Betts’ solo homer, and walked just one.
The Padres improved to 5-3 this season against the Dodgers.
Darvish pitched for the Dodgers in the second half of 2017, including the World Series loss to Houston. He was obtained by the Padres in a trade with the Cubs on Dec. 29.
“I like the Dodgers as a team,” Darvish said. “I get excited facing this team so maybe there’s a little more adrenaline I would say, yes.”
After playing two entertaining series before limited-capacity crowds, this was the first time this season the teams faced each other in a full-capacity ballpark after California’s reopening plan went into effect last week. The sellout crowd of 42,220 appeared to be fairly evenly split between Dodgers and Padres fans.
The Dodgers swept the Padres in their NL Division Series last year en route to the World Series title.
Darvish’s only big mistake was allowing Betts’ homer to center with two outs in the third, his ninth. That ended a string of seven straight strikeouts for the right-hander.
Darvish notched his milestone 1,500th strikeout when he got Steven Souza Jr. looking leading off the sixth. After Cronenworth’s error at first base allowed Gavin Lux to reach with two outs, Darvish allowed just his second hit, a single by Justin Turner.
Rookie second baseman Kim Ha-seong then made a nice play on Will Smith’s hard smash to end the inning, although he injured the index finger on his throwing hand and was replaced by Cronenworth the next inning. Padres manager Jayce Tingler said X-rays on Kim’s finger were negative.
Tingler said Darvish being the quickest to 1,500 strikeouts “is unbelievably impressive. Obviously you have to be able to do that in a short period of time. For him to do everything with those strikeouts over the years, he’s got a ton of weapons. The way he spins the ball, the way he manipulates the ball, being able to get swing and miss, he’s tremendous at it.”
Darvish is known for a wide variety of breaking pitches as well as his firm fastball.
“He’s one of the best at just manipulating the baseball and getting it to do different things. That’s certainly a big factor in getting as many punchouts in a pretty short amount of time,” Tingler said.
Machado hit a three-run homer off Julio Urias (9-3) to give the Padres a 4-0 lead before the Dodgers got an out in the first. Urias allowed Tommy Pham’s leadoff double, walked Fernando Tatis Jr. and allowed Cronenworth’s opposite-field double to left before Machado drove his 11th homer to left.
Cronenworth homered to right in the fifth after Tatis hit a leadoff double to left. It was Cronenworth’s ninth.
Will Smith homered off San Diego reliever Craig Stammen in the eighth, his ninth.