Yu Darvish accomplished something Saturday he has never done in a Cubs uniform — he pitched at least 5 innings in three straight starts for the first time since signing that $126 million deal more than 14 months ago.
That's not exactly an indicator that Darvish will be contending for the National League Cy Young this season, but it's certainly a step in the right direction from his previous 10 starts in Chicago.
Darvish lasted just 5 innings in Saturday's 6-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, needing 88 pitches to get through those frames before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth inning.
He retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced, including a pair of strikeouts to end his last inning.
Does he feel like he's still moving forward?
"I think so, especially that last inning," Darvish said. "The fifth inning — mentally — was very good. It's good for next start."
The end line Saturday wasn't great — 5 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts, 2 homers — but he kept his team in the ballgame after giving up back-to-back homers to the second and third hitters of the afternoon.
He was still hitting 96 mph in the fifth inning and acknowledged he could've easily gone another inning if the Cubs weren't trailing 3-0 when his spot in the batting order came up.
"The fastball velocity came up as the game was going on, the breaking ball got sharper," Joe Maddon said. "...They got him quickly and then [Zack] Greinke pitched so well. I thought keeping it at 3, which Yu did do, and that's really not a bad thing after the beginning of that game. We just could not get to Greinke.
"Had we been able to get back into the game, I think Yu's performance would've been looked on more favorably, because he actually did settle down and do a pretty good job."
Still, the Cubs need more than moral victories every time Darvish takes the ball.
Theo Epstein said earlier this month he doesn't think it's fair to issue a "start-to-start referendum" on Darvish, but this is 5 starts into the season now for the 32-year-old right-hander, who's walked 18 batters and served up 6 homers in 22.2 innings so far.
Forget the salary or the big free agent deal. This is a four-time All-Star who has twice finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting, yet fell to 2-6 with a 5.31 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 13 starts in a Cubs uniform.
In those 13 starts, Darvish has walked multiple batters in 11 of them and allowed at least 3 earned runs in 8 outings. He's also averaged less than 5 innings a start overall, and that number is down to just 4.5 innings per outing in 2019.
Darvish said he wants to pitch into the seventh inning (something he's never done as a Cub) and believes that would be great for his confidence that's been building — slowly but surely — since the start of the season. But he still has to get over that hump.
"His stuff's nasty — plain and simple," Jason Heyward said. "Any time I pitch with Yu in a video game, guarantee at least a 1-hitter. I feel like his confidence is just another thing he'll have to keep building on for himself.
"Every game is different. Today was — I guess you could say — a step back or whatever. Last start was pretty good and next start, I know he's gonna come out and be hungry again. ... Today was one day. We got a long season. Hopefully next time we can scratch a few runs across."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.
The news on Brandon Morrow might not be so positive, but the Cubs did receive very good reports on their injured ace this weekend.
Jon Lester threw a simulated game against a couple of his Cubs teammates Saturday morning at Wrigley Field, tossing 45 pitches in total. In between "innings" of the sim game, Lester was also working out on the side in an effort to ramp up the intensity and simulate more of a game feel to see how his injured left hamstring will respond.
Lester initially went on the injured list two weeks ago after he was removed in the third inning of the Cubs' home opener on April 8, when he hurt his hamstring running the bases.
"[The sim game went] really well," Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. "I thought he looked very good. Pretty amazing where he's at already. ... Did not hold back at all, so it's very encouraging."
Maddon also said he thought Lester's stuff looked good from where he was watching behind the catcher and pointed out that the Cubs ace was "hypercritical of himself," indicating that Lester's focus was on competing and making good pitches instead of worrying about his hamstring or any physical limitations.
The Cubs don't have a next step mapped out for Lester just yet, as they will see how the 35-year-old feels Sunday after the "rigorous" activity Saturday.
There is currently no timetable for his return, but Maddon didn't rule out the possibility that Lester would be able to pitch sometime in the coming week.
The Cubs rotation has looked very good since Lester went down — combining for a 0.96 ERA in the last 7 games before Yu Darvish struggled early in Saturday's tilt with the Diamondbacks.
Tyler Chatwood gets the ball for the Cubs Sunday to close out the series against Arizona and then the team has Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels lined up for the first two games of the series against the Dodgers when they come to town Tuesday night.
The Cubs won't need a fifth starter in the rotation again until next Saturday, April 27, so that could be a date to circle for a possible Lester return if all continues to go well in the veteran's recovery.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.