Yu Darvish Rewards Cubs for Letting Him ‘Do the Escape Thing’

Yu Darvish looked bad early Saturday night. And I mean bad like his game had fallen out of the tallest ugly tree in the forest and hit every branch on the way down. He either walked or hit five batters in the first two innings, mainly because he had no idea where his fastball was going. Darvish had to resort to throwing the slider almost exclusively, opting for either that or the cutter for nine of his final 10 pitches in a rough 2nd inning.

All the while, though, it was clear the stuff was still there. The big righty righty was touching mid-90’s and getting good movement on his pitches, he just couldn’t find the zone. That wildness was part of what limited to the Diamondbacks to one hit through the first five innings, but they weren’t getting good contact even when Darvish threw the occasional strike.

At 56 pitches through those first frames, and with little sign that he’d get anything going, something clicked. That something may have been the offense, which hung a five-spot on Zack Godley in the top of the 3rd inning. A little cushion allowed Darvish to settle in and pitch with more confidence, or so his manager believes.

“I think he’s historically a front-runner,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “When you give him a lead like that he normally does pretty well. And he did.”

The final line won’t reveal those early struggles, it’ll just tell you that Darvish gave up one run on two hits and that he struck out eight men. The four walks even look better when spread out across six innings instead of two. But what you can’t get from a box score is the context of how Darvish battled back from his initial wildness to notch his second win.

Even though I know it’s gauche to cite pitcher wins as a legitimate measure of performance, it sure feels like Darvish earned one Saturday night. And that’s what’s so satisfying about it, that a guy who was being protected and pulled early from previous starts was forced to push past those first couple innings Saturday.

Perhaps even more important, Darvish was allowed to finish the 6th inning despite giving up a leadoff homer and walking the second batter to open the frame. What’s more, the last pitch of his free pass put him at a season-high 98 pitches. With a run in and a man on with no outs, Maddon wouldn’t have been blamed for pulling Darvish with what was then a 7-1 lead.

“We needed him to do the escape thing,” the skipper explained later.

So instead of favoring his starter’s psyche, Maddon sent pitching coach Tommy Hottovy out to help settle Darvish, something we’d seen previously when Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels had experienced rough patches. Darvish struck out the next batter he faced, then got a pair of groundouts to end the inning and cap off his night. It only took him 54 pitches to close out his final four innings of work, two fewer than it had taken him to get through the first two.

So has Darvish turned a corner? There’s no way of knowing that without foresight, but he does appear to have earned the full trust of his manager. More importantly, he may have increased his own trust in himself. And if that’s true, if Darvish is able to lock in and throw like this consistently…Well, I’ll let you complete that sentence for yourself.

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