Results still mixed, but small improvements evident for Yu Darvish in Saturday's start against Cardinals


Before Saturday afternoon’s game against the Cardinals, Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked about how he wanted to see starting pitcher Yu Darvish throw on a ‘visceral level.’ He wanted him to ditch the scouting reports, the manager said, and “just become primal.”

The results -- four innings, five earned runs and five walks in a no-decision -- may not evoke quite the same colorful adjectives. Though it was another rocky start for Darvish, the concern that many outside the Cubs’ clubhouse share could not be found in it.

“Honestly, I thought he looked good for a while there,” Maddon said after the Cubs’ 6-5 win. “I felt good about him in the beginning. Even when [Jose] Martinez hit the home run - I’d prefer a homer to a walk right there.”

Darvish continued to struggle with command, as the five walks he issued were the most since he walked seven in Texas back in late March.

“We had a good game plan, and I felt really good about my sinker today,” Darvish said. “But I used too much of [it].”

The game unraveled for Darvish in the 4th. After Jose Martinez led off with a ground rule double to right, walks issued to Kolten Wong and Dexter Fowler loaded the bases with only one out. Then it was Cardinals’ starting pitcher Michael Wacha, of all people, who poked a ground ball into left field for a two-RBI single. Matt Carpenter followed that with a RBI ground ball of his own, and the damage was done.

“I thought he was going to settle in, but then there was a ground ball base hit by the pitcher and a ground ball base hit by Carpenter - those were ground balls, that’s actually a good pitch,” Maddon said. “Then going back out, after we scored those runs, I wanted to give him an opportunity and he was just unable to settle back in. That’s where he’s gotta grab the game and pitch into the 6th inning possibly.”

After Darvish opened the 5th with two more walks and a wild pitch, his afternoon was over. A well-rested Cubs bullpen took over, with six different guys holding St. Louis to three hits over the final five innings. He wasn’t exactly cheated, either: Wacha’s two-RBI single had an exit velocity of 98.6 mph; Carpenter’s left the bat at 95.

“I think Yu threw the ball really well,” catcher and Saturday’s star Taylor Davis said. “The results are going to be misleading for people that didn’t watch the game. I think at the end of the day he had some really quality pitches.”

The postgame quotes would almost certainly be different had Javy Baez not crushed a game-winning homer into the right field bleachers during the bottom of the 8th inning. It’s easier to swallow four innings of tinkering when you come away with the win regardless. Still, between Darvish himself, his personal catcher, and his manager, the message was a unified one: there’s improvement happening, in some way, each time out.

“I was talking with Tommy [Hottovoy] after the game, and my fastball was very good today,” Davish added. “My program is about throwing strikes with my fastball, but now I can throw strikes with my two-seamer, so I can do a lot more.

“I’m close.”

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