By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Yu Darvish will return to familiar surroundings when he makes his World Series debut on Friday against the host Houston Astros.
The Japanese right-hander has made many trips to the home of the Astros since breaking into the major leagues in 2012 having pitched five seasons for their cross-state rival, the Texas Rangers.
But Darvish, who boasts a 4-1 record and stellar 2.16 earned run average in six career starts at Houston's Minute Maid Park, dismissed any notion that having enjoyed success in the stadium before gives him any edge.
"I feel like it doesn't really matter. It's better to know that I've pitched here before. But (Friday's) game, it could be totally different from my previous outings, here," Darvish said through a translator.
"But like I said, it's better to know this stadium and I pitched here before. Maybe it will give me a little bit of an advantage, but it really doesn't matter."
But for the Dodgers, Darvish's familiarity pitching in the Astros' ballpark could be a key reason why they decided to start him in Houston, where the best-of-seven series resumes after the teams split the first two games in Los Angeles.
Darvish also has plenty of familiarity with the Astros lineup having started against them 14 times -- all as a member of the Rangers -- and has a record of 5-5 with a 3.44 ERA.
And while Darvish has changed his delivery, pace and pitch selection since joining the Dodgers in July, he said that will not alter how he approaches the Houston hitters.
"Me, personally, like I really don't change much going into tomorrow's outing, but to them I'm a different kind of pitcher, different type of pitcher in my pitch selection. So they feel I may have a different approach," said Darvish.
The Astros have watched plenty of video footage on Darvish and noticed the changes he has made but said playoff baseball is unpredictable and you can go into a game expecting one thing from a pitcher and get something totally different.
For their part, the Astros said they have a simple game plan: get a pitch to hit.
"He's got 15 pitches you have to deal with, from different angles, and he can reach back and have velocity. Tomorrow is going to be a big start for him, I know he'll be at his best," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch.
"But if you can get him in the strike zone, like any pitcher in the Big Leagues, we've done damage to every good pitcher in the strike zone. When we expand, it's tough.
"So for us having familiarity will help a little bit, but when you get to Game 3 of the World Series, the competition will be at a unique level. And we'll see how he adjusts or do we adjust."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)