It wasn’t just the elbow pain that took months to diagnose. It wasn’t just the burden of accepting a $126 million offer to replace Jake Arrieta. It wasn’t just a new city and new teammates and new expectations. No, all of those things lent their screeching voices to the chorus of disharmony that was Yu Darvish’s debut season with the Cubs.
All the while, select members of both local and national media cackled in the peanut gallery like Statler and Waldorf. And let’s not even get started on the fans, who Darvish reportedly thought hated him due to the unsavory actions of a few mouth-breathing keyboard commandos.
One of the knocks on Darvish has been that he seems aloof or worse, that he’s mentally weak. Some of that comes from his performance on the national stage, particularly the 2017 World Series, which leads to the sort of small-sample criticism that can outweigh more nuanced observation. But there’s also the matter of cultural and language barriers, something Darvish appears intent on changing.
“I’m looking forward to doing something [better] this year,” the big righty told reporters during a brief Q&A conducted without the help of an interpreter. “My mental [state] is way better than last year too.”
To that end, Darvish also said that he felt “like family” around his teammates and that he wanted to be himself this year. And lest you go thinking that’s an isolated issue, consider that the Cubs are well aware of their difficulties with onboarding players — pitchers in particular — over the last few years. Being able to acknowledge that shortcoming and then working to improve it puts the Cubs in position to allow Darvish to flourish.
That means fostering a renewed confidence, the kind of swagger you see from the best pitchers in the game. Darvish didn’t have that last season and it’s something Peter Gammons talked about back in May when there were still hopes that the righty could regain his form.
“I’m not so sure Yu has quite the same approach [as Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander] and, again, I think it’s self esteem,” Gammons said. “There are times when he pitches, to me, as if he doesn’t want to let people down.
“And you can’t think that way, you have to be…there has to be a little arrogance in you when you go to the mound.”
If the videos of his workouts and bullpen sessions, not to mention his public speaking, are any indication, Darvish may indeed be cultivating a little healthy arrogance. It doesn’t hurt that he’s up to about 230 pounds after putting out roughly 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, a change that would have anyone feeling a little more confident.
Now it’s a matter of translating that all to the field, since his raw stuff will play in any language.