Yu Darvish Reaches Back for 99, Nearly Turns Lewis Brinson into Eunuch

Yu Darvish came into camp healthy and was touching 97 mph on the gun, but his velocity had been a little disappointing in the early going of the regular season. Even in Monday’s effort, he settled in at about 93 after touching a couple ticks higher to start. Then a curious thing happened: Darvish cranked it up big time in his last inning of work.

Whether it was because he was struggling with control, like in his first start, or whether Joe Maddon was protecting his starter, like in the last two, Darvish had not previously reached 80 pitches. So when he started the 6th inning at that mark, it looked as though he was out to prove to his manager that he had an extra gear.

Darvish admitted after the game that this was the case, saying he knew it was his last inning and he wanted to go out firing.

Of his next 10 fastballs, seven were thrown at 94 mph or higher. Darvish iced Austin Dean with a 95 mph two-seam, then sawed Chad Wallach off with the same thing. And then he really started humping up, firing 98, 99, and 99 again to Lewis Brinson. It was a sight to behold, except when the last of those pitches clipped Brinson in the head. Just not the one with a helmet.

It got a piece of home plate umpire Brian O’Nora as well, though at least he had the benefit of a couple ricochets. Some, including Cubs color man Jim Deshaies, suggested the pitch could have been thrown with intent, what with the Cubs having worn a couple earlier in the game. You’ll never convince me that was the case, and we’ll talk about that here in a bit.

First, let’s look at just how filthy Darvish was on the evening. He walked four Marlins and gave up a home run to *checks notes* Chad Wallach, but his stuff was electric and it was easily his best performance of the season. I know, low bar, but just go with it.

Yeesh.

Now let’s get back to that pitch to Brinson  and Maddon’s subsequent decision to lift his starter in favor of recent call-up Kyle Ryan. Darvish’s highest velocities of the evening came on his last three pitches, which is a great sign of his stamina. But it’s also a sign that he was reaching back for a little something extra, which may not have been a good thing.

“A lot of times people use velocity, a guy losing a couple miles per hour,” Will Carroll of Motus Global told Cubs Insider back in 2017. “That comes down to the arm speed, so if you have that information you know it for sure. But we also see guys ‘muscling up.’ You see a starter get into the 6th or 7th inning and his velocity will take that little bump and get back up to 95 suddenly.

“That’s because he’s recruiting more muscles. He’s very literally reaching back for something he didn’t have early and that’s a clear sign of fatigue, even if the velocity looks like a positive. Well, we can look in real time and say ‘Oh, look, he’s pitching faster, but the strain on his elbow has gone up five percent.’”

And that’s why, despite criticizing Maddon for early hooks of Darvish in his last two starts, I was perfectly fine with this one. It was evident even before the radar gun verified it that Darvish was altering his mechanics, with the clearest tell being the extra oomph on his glove tap. He pulled the ball out farther and with more gusto, which preceded him really cutting it loose.

Darvish nearly opening Miami’s first free vasectomy clinic was a mistake caused by getting a little too enamored of his velo numbers and falling out of his mechanics. He appeared to be a little out of sorts after the pitch and Maddon got him out of there before he did any more damage to himself or the Marlins.

Of course, any damage to his opponents would have been purely by accident. Darvish had walked four batters and the Cubs had just a three-run lead, so why hit a guy to prove a point? Even if you are trying to prove a point, you don’t do it with your hardest throw of the night. And you damn sure don’t give a free base to a career .566 OPS hitter.

So Ryan came on and closed out the inning, after which the rest of the ‘pen held the Marlins scoreless for an easy W. Darvish nearly completed six innings and got the win while displaying nasty stuff and touching velocity numbers I’m not even sure he was aware he could hit. The steps have been small but palpable, so now it’s a matter of putting together consistent outings against major league lineups.

Avoiding balls would be a good idea too, both throwing them and throwing at them.

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Evan Altman

Evan Altman is the EIC and co-founder of Cubs Insider and has proclaimed himself Central Indiana's foremost Cubs authority. He is a husband, father, homebrewer, and award-winning blogger with entirely too much pop culture knowledge. Evan's greatest accomplishments include scoring 400 points in Magic Johnson's Fast Break, naming all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan in under 3.5 seconds, and winning the Meese Literary Award at Hanover College.

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