Cubs make bid and wonder: Who is Yu Darvish?


Cubs make bid and wonder: Who is Yu Darvish?

This is the question that no one in the baseball world really knows the answer to: Who is Yu Darvish?

Bobby Scales described Darvish as freakishly athletic, almost like Carlos Zambrano. The Japanese superstar liked to mess around with switch-hitting, and had an extra glove because he can also throw left-handed.

Scales didnt really know if this was a joke, because it came through an interpreter, but the 6-foot-5-inch pitcher said his favorite sport used to be ice hockey, until he outgrew playing goalie.

Micah Hoffpauir called Darvish a good dude. Darvish didnt speak much English, but understood the language, and could keep up with Hoffpauirs slow Texas drawl. The two played practical jokes by putting pine tar inside each others shoes.

These two ex-Cubs went overseas to play for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters last season and got to see what the hype is all about. At the age of 25, Darvish is already rich and famous, but the next great challenge is in the United States.

A major-league official confirmed that the Cubs submitted a bid before Wednesdays deadline, though the amount and their true interest level was unclear. Another industry source with ties to Japan said that the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays were among the most visible teams scouting Darvish last season.

Theo Epstein has promised that the Cubs will be aggressive in the international marketplace. But the president of baseball operations went through this process before with the Boston Red Sox. Between the posting fee and free-agent contract, it cost more than 100 million to import Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Darvish helped his country win the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and has dominated Japans Pacific League for years, going 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA and 276 strikeouts last season.

I have no idea if his talents will translate at the major-league level, said new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who became a popular figure in Japan while leading the Chiba Lotte Marines. But hes a quality pitcher. He has size. He (has) velocity, breaking balls, very good hands. He makes the ball do a lot of crazy things on its way to the plate.

(Hes a) great competitor. If those things translate into another uniformwho knows?

Matsuzaka helped the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series during his first year in Boston, and went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA the following season. But across the next three years, he barely reached 250 innings combined before being shut down for Tommy John surgery.

The New York Yankees made a 46 million investment in Kei Igawa and have watched him appear in 16 major-league games. He has spent most of the past five seasons in the shadows, pitching at Double- and Triple-A affiliates.

By association, there will be skepticism about Darvish. He has an Iranian father and a Japanese mother and must already know something about bridging cultures.

Hoffpauir who played parts of three seasons on the North Side and will return to Japan next year believes in Darvish.

Being around him and watching him go about his business, Hoffpauir said, I dont see any reason why the guy doesnt succeed in the States. You put him on a team like the Yankees, hes going to be a No. 2 or No. 3 guy.

You put him on a team like the Rangers, hes their No. 1 guy immediately. Hes got great stuff. Hes got a phenomenal work ethic.

Scales whos unsigned for next season and focused on getting another job with a major-league organization said the two games could not be more different, (even) down to the way they do laundry in the clubhouse.

Thats where all the projections can get hazy. Scales called Darvishs fastball arrow straight, but overall liked his velocity, athleticism and repertoire, the ability to keep hitters off-balance with sliders and forkballs.

Hoffpauir said Darvishs stuff is so good that he really only had to worry about the hitters batting third through sixth no one else in the lineup would be expected to do damage and hit for power.

Once he gets to the States, I think he will become a better pitcher, Hoffpauir said, because he will lock in for nine batters, as opposed to locking in for four, maybe five (against) a lineup in Japan.

Hoffpauir respected how Darvish seemed to have his own code, almost never leaving before the other starting pitcher. Japanese pitchers typically work on six days rest, but Hoffpauir said Darvish wouldnt wait that long between starts when the team needed it down the stretch last season.

The blind bidding is over for the right to negotiate with baseballs international man of mystery. If the highest bid is accepted, the winner would then get a 30-day exclusive window to agree on a contract. It will take years to figure out if Darvish is worth the money.

Hes going to have some growing pains, Hoffpauir said. Hes going to have some bumps and bruises when it comes to making adjustments. (But) hes smart enough and I think hell work hard enough that hell get that done.

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs


Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast


Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss Yu Darvish's 1st win at Wrigley, Cole Hamel's status, and Kris Bryant playing better than he did in his MVP season.

01:00     Darvish picking up 1st win at Wrigley

03:30     Cole Hamels injury update

05:00     Starting rotation after the All-Star break

06:00     Cubs defense looking sharp

07:30     How the Cubs will approach the weekend and the expected heat

09:30     Kris Bryant playing above his MVP level

12:00     How the NL Central stacks up

14:00     Upcoming road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Saint Louis

16:00     Addition to Martin Maldonado

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast


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