Darvish has to be ace Cubs need to lead less-than-im­pos­ing ro­ta­tion

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - GREEN­BERG,

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.

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