Rob Manfred may not want a man with a slow hand, but the Cubs will gladly piss off the commissioner every fifth day if Yu Darvish keeps throwing with the easy touch he displayed Wednesday night in Cincinnati. The big righty looked more comfortable on the mound, taking his time between pitches and allowing the game to flow through him rather than forcing it.
“I’m a slow guy,” Darvish told reporters after racking up a season-high 11 strikeouts. “I’m always slow, especially my first three-to-four years. I told Tommy [Hottovy, Cubs pitching coach] yesterday, I want to go slower. That’s why I was taking my time. That makes me more comfortable.”
Darvish was particularly comfortable with the cutter, which he threw with greater frequency (37.2%) than in any of his previous starts this season. Of his 38 total cutters, 10 were called strikes, nine got whiffs, seven were fouled off, and only three were put in play. Just one of those resulted in a hit.
The Reds came into the game looking breaking ball, so Darvish victimized them by throwing the cutter and four-seam in two-strike counts. Only five of his strikeouts were of the swinging variety and four of those were on the cutter, which he consistently buried in the lower glove-side corner. His command of the hard stuff, lacking for most of the season, enabled him to keep his opponents guessing all night.
And that command came from pitching more like the the ol’ Human Rain Delay, former Cub Steve Trachsel. For some pitchers, too much time gets them overthinking and allows doubt to creep in and establish the kind of foothold Alex Honnold would be proud of. Darvish, however, was better able to maintain his rhythm and composure.
“I know the tempo was a little slow, but I don’t care,” Darvish’s soon-to-be-former personal catcher Taylor Davis said after the game. “He was getting guys out. He was making quality pitches…The pressure situations, he was able to handle a lot better.”
Keeping that momentum is going to be important in his next start, which will take place back at home and likely without Davis. Victor Caratini should be ready to come off the IL any day now, which means either he or Willson Contreras will be paired with Darvish. And for whatever reason, the enigmatic righty hasn’t pitched very well at the Friendly Confines.
“I think I need it at Wrigley,” Darvish said. “That’s what I want. I always struggle. I need this start at Wrigley.”
Oh, and did I mention that his counterpart this coming Monday is none other than Jake Freaking Arrieta, the man Darvish replaced in the Cubs’ rotation? The detractors out there will tell you this is the kind of scenario in which he tends to wilt, but perhaps slowing down will help put that narrative to rest.
“[Arrieta]’s a legend in Chicago, for sure,” Darvish said. “I respect that, and I’m really looking forward to facing him.”
Maybe the best way for Darvish to handle pressure isn’t to avoid it, but to embrace it. Former Cub Tommy La Stella acknowledged as much last year when talking about his own mental health and how he learned to cope with doubt.
“So much of the time it seems the noise is so loud I can’t even stand to look at it,” the nascent power merchant said. “But it’s the opposite. You have to make your peace with all of the stuff that makes you afraid. You have to go into the noise in order to ever get any separation from it.
“If you keep looking the other way, it grows louder and louder and louder, because you’re not tending to it.”
Like driving instead of flying, sometimes it’s better to take your time and stop along the way, to really experience the journey. For Darvish, that’s enjoying a slow ride and taking it easy in order to really get in the mood and get his rhythm right. I’m sure that’s what Foghat would say, anyway.
And if doing that means continuing to post performances like he did against the Reds, well, the Cubs are going to happily reside in Commissioner Manfred’s doghouse.