CUBS NEED DARVISH TO DEAL LIKE AN ACE
Darvish has to be ace Cubs need to lead less-than-imposing rotation
Yu Darvish was scheduled to throw two innings Saturday in the Cubs’ first intrasquad scrimmage since they gathered at Wrigley Field to prepare for a strange, truncated, hope-it-goes-off-as-planned regular season.
Two innings? A four-time All-Star with a $126 million contract can do that with a fistful of hundreds tied behind his back.
As Darvish walked off the mound after his second inning, though, manager David Ross put up the stop sign.
‘‘One more hitter!’’ Ross yelled. OK, so Darvish ended up doing a little bit more than expected. And as the rest of the team left the field, the 33-year-old right-hander did a little bit more than that. His hair long and his beard scraggly, he stayed on the mound and worked on his pickoff move to first. Huge news? Of course not. But a good theme for Darvish in 2020: Just do more.
The Cubs need an ace, and it has to be Yu. It has to be the pitcher Cubs president Theo Epstein called ‘‘elite’’ and a ‘‘top-of-the-rotation guy’’ upon signing him before the 2018 season. It has to be the man with the highest base salary — $22 million, prorated to about $8.15 million — on the team in 2020.
It can’t be Jon Lester because those days are behind him. It better not be Kyle Hendricks, who has been everything the Cubs could have hoped for — and more — since joining them but wasn’t put on this earth to be a steal-yourlunch-money top dog. It sure won’t be Jose Quintana, who has a hard enough time washing the dishes. It has to be Yu.
We all know Darvish has struggled to make his mark in Chicago, going 7-11 with a 4.16 ERA in 39 starts with the Cubs. No one knows it better than Darvish himself, who apparently is one of those out-of-touch dinosaurs who still believes in the value of the statistical ‘‘W.’’ So much so that he put a number on it last September
in St. Louis as the season was ending.
‘‘Next year,’’ he said, ‘‘I hope I can have at least 15 wins.’’
Well, lots of luck with that now. In a 60-game season, he won’t even have 15 starts.
But just how good can Darvish be for 12 of them? Any chance he can be as electrifying as he was last September, when he struck out 46 batters and walked only four to cap a second-half turnaround?
I’m reminded of something else he said during the conversation in which he mentioned winning 15 games in 2020 — something that perhaps should concern Cubs fans.
‘‘I’m a little worried about next season,’’ he said, ‘‘because if I lose this feeling in the first couple of months, it happens again.’’
‘‘It’’ being the sort of crisis of confidence — or crisis of comfort — that has plagued him for much of the time he has spent with the Cubs. He didn’t just ‘‘lose the feeling’’ in the first couple of months of what should have been a full 2020 campaign. He was shut down like everybody else, with baseball buried deep in a cave for three-plus months.
The question, then, is: Will he find the feeling again before it’s too late?
Darvish sparkled Saturday, inasmuch as one can sparkle in a practice game against teammates. He hit 97 mph on the gun on multiple pitches and was so psyched that he tweeted delightedly about it afterward. He threw a couple of nice ‘‘Supremes,’’ too, if you don’t mind accepting the term he recently made up for a fastball-splitter mashup that gives him 10, maybe 11, pitches in his arsenal.
That’s according to Darvish and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, by the way. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t recognize a ‘‘Supreme’’ if it twisted me into the doughiest ballpark pretzel in the world.
But I do know what an ace looks like, and Darvish hasn’t really looked like one in a Cubs uniform yet.
‘‘I just want him to be the guy he was last year,’’ Ross said. ‘‘Whatever the mentality he needs, he’s been doing it a long time and been a superstar for a really long time. He seems to be in a good place. The ball is coming out real good. Talking to him, he seems at peace and comfortable in the environment. He’s a guy that we’re going to lean on.’’
That was separated by a minute or two, though, from a comment Ross made about offense being the Cubs’ strong suit in 2020. And it might have to be. An offense with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez batting 1-2-3 would seem to have a chance to be special. A pitching rotation with more question marks than answers — as of now, that is — might have to be carried.
But if Darvish shoulders more of the weight himself ? If he does more — more 97s, more ‘‘Supremes,’’ more ‘‘W’s’’ and so on?
That’s the best thing the Cubs could find out. It is, after all, why he’s here.
Right-hander Yu Darvish has gone 7-11 with a 4.16 ERA in 39 starts in two seasons with the Cubs.
It’s no secret that Darvish has struggled to make his mark with the Cubs, but a strong September last season provides reason for optimism.