Hon­ey­cutt has lived what Darvish faces

Like the Dodgers’ new pitcher, the coach was ac­quired in the heat of a pen­nant race. Only it didn’t go well.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - DY­LAN HER­NAN­DEZ

AT­LANTA — With an­tic­i­pa­tion build­ing around Los Angeles for a pos­si­ble World Se­ries run, the Dodgers struck a deal with the Texas Rangers to ac­quire a front­line start­ing pitcher. Sound fa­mil­iar? Only this isn’t about Yu Darvish. This story is from 1983 and the pitcher ac­quired by the Dodgers was a left-han­der named Rick Hon­ey­cutt.

In the hall­way link­ing the vis­it­ing club­house to the field at SunTrust Park, Hon­ey­cutt cracked a smile Thurs­day when the de­tails of his trade were re­cited to him.

The sim­i­lar­i­ties didn’t es­cape the Dodgers pitch­ing coach. Thirty-four years af­ter a trade thrust him into the mid­dle of a pen­nant race, Hon­ey­cutt will be guiding a pitcher through a nearly iden­ti­cal set of cir­cum­stances. “Kind of the same,” Hon­ey­cutt said. If any­one un­der­stands what Darvish is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing as he pre­pares for his maiden start with the Dodgers on Friday, it’s his new pitch­ing coach.

Hon­ey­cutt is in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with the po­ten­tial ob­sta­cles Darvish could en­counter. He knows the pres­sure the Ja­panese righthander will feel.

Now, if only he can help Darvish avoid shar­ing his fate.

“I was ter­ri­ble,” Hon­ey­cutt said.

Hon­ey­cutt was an Al­lS­tar for the sec­ond time in 1983. At the time of his trade to the Dodgers, he was 14-8 with a 2.42 earned-run av­er­age, which was the best in the Amer­i­can League.

Like Darvish, he was set to be­come a free agent at the end of the sea­son.

There were ru­mors he could be sent to the At­lanta Braves, who were lead­ing the Na­tional League West. In­stead, he was traded to the sec­ond-place Dodgers, who trailed the Braves by 3½ games.

In ex­change for Hon­ey­cutt, the Dodgers sent the Rangers fu­ture World Se­ries MVP Dave Ste­wart, $200,000 and a player to be named later, who turned out to be left-han­der Ricky Wright. As part of the deal, Hon­ey­cutt agreed to a fiveyear con­tract ex­ten­sion.

Ini­tially, Hon­ey­cutt con­tin­ued to per­form as if noth­ing had changed. In his first game with the Dodgers, he pitched seven score­less in­nings in a 6-0 vic­tory over the Philadel­phia Phillies, who were lead­ing the NL East.

More than how he pitched, what Hon­ey­cutt re­called from that game was what he did of­fen­sively.

“I got a base hit my first at-bat,” he said.

His next start was also against the Phillies and the re­sults were sim­i­lar, as he al­lowed one run in a com­plete-game vic­tory.

The tra­jec­tory of his sea­son rad­i­cally changed in his third start.

“At that time of the year, in that old Olympic Sta­dium [in Montreal], it was a re­ally damp, cool evening,” Hon­ey­cutt said. “I threw in that game and some­thing didn’t feel right in my shoul­der.”

Hon­ey­cutt alerted the train­ing staff, which failed to di­ag­nose what was wrong. The game was the first of a five-start stretch in which he posted a 9.14 ERA.

“I thought I was go­ing crazy be­cause I’d never had this feel­ing,” Hon­ey­cutt said. “One day I’d get an ache in the front and an­other day I’d get it on the side. I thought, ‘Th­ese peo­ple are go­ing to think I’m a hypochon­driac or some­thing.’ ”

He fin­ished the sea­son in the bullpen. He con­tin­ued to pitch with dis­com­fort through the fol­low­ing sea­son, when the late Dr. Frank Jobe di­ag­nosed him with an AC joint in­jury.

How­ever, the Dodgers over­came the Braves to win the NL West in ’83. Hon­ey­cutt laughed when told the two games he won made the dif­fer­ence. That was the mar­gin by which the Dodgers won the divi­sion.

“I’d never been on a win­ning team,” he said. “All the teams I’d been on in Seattle and Texas, not one made the play­offs.”

The Dodgers were elim­i­nated by the Phillies in the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries. Hon­ey­cutt made two re­lief ap­pear­ances in the se­ries.

Draw­ing from his own ex­pe­ri­ence, Hon­ey­cutt spec­u­lated that Darvish’s main source of anx­i­ety is de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ships with his catch­ers.

“You’ll be throw­ing to some­body you’ve never thrown to be­fore,” he said. “My main re­spon­si­bil­ity is to make sure he and the catch­ers are on the same page.”

Hon­ey­cutt is mind­ful of other con­sid­er­a­tions he has to make, such as learn­ing what kind of in­for­ma­tion Darvish likes to re­ceive be­fore starts and his be­tween-games rou­tine.

“I don’t see him hav­ing to change,” he said. “We’re the ones who have to adapt to him.”

Darvish had never been traded, but Hon­ey­cutt be­lieves he will have an eas­ier time with the move than he did. “I mean, I think the guys that come from other coun­tries, they have to deal with a lot more than this,” he said.

Hon­ey­cutt is also a be­liever in Darvish’s abil­ity, and that be­lief only in­creased af­ter a 23-pitch bullpen ses­sion Wed­nes­day.

“He’s much big­ger than I an­tic­i­pated,” Hon­ey­cutt said. “I knew the height, but to see the shape and the size of his lower half, he’s put to­gether ex­tremely well. He has such an ex­plo­sive arm with a nice, fluid mo­tion. When he spins his break­ing pitches, it’s top-notch spin.”

The switch from the AL to the NL should help Darvish, and so should the move out of the Rangers’ hit­ter-friendly home ball­park.

Darvish was roughed up in his last start with the Rangers, al­low­ing 10 runs in 32⁄3 in­nings to the Mi­ami Mar­lins. Scouts no­ticed Darvish tip­ping his pitches in that game, ac­cord­ing to Ya­hoo Sports. Darvish re­viewed video of the game and be­lieved the re­port to be true. He told re­porters in Texas the prob­lem could be cor­rected.

“We’ve looked into that,” Hon­ey­cutt said. “If it is, it’s so sub­tle.”

Hon­ey­cutt said he was think­ing of reach­ing out to Tim Wal­lach or an­other ac­quain­tance on the Mi­ami coach­ing staff to ask for de­tails. “They don’t face them again,” Hon­ey­cutt said.

How­ever much Darvish’s sit­u­a­tion mir­rored his own, Hon­ey­cutt said his per­sonal his­tory didn’t come to mind when he first heard of the ac­qui­si­tion. “That was 40 years ago,” he said with a laugh.

His­tory has re­peated. Only this time, Hon­ey­cutt is hope­ful the story will have a dif­fer­ent end­ing.

Eric Risberg As­so­ci­ated Press

HON­EY­CUTT fin­ished the ’83 sea­son in bullpen.

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