Cubs

Armed with a new pitch and pregame superstition, Yu Darvish keeps rolling

/ by Tony Andracki
Presented By Cubs Insiders
Cubs

If you see Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy running around in the outfield on the days Yu Darvish starts, it's not because he's trying to put out fires or urgently rushing a scouting report to somebody.

It's because Darvish asked him to join the pregame running routine.

A few starts back, Darvish asked personal catcher Victor Caratini to join in on the pitcher's standard warm-up run ahead of his starts. That developed into asking Hottovy to join along before Darvish's last start at Wrigley Field.

Maybe the next step is asking catching/strategy coordinator Mike Borzello or manager Joe Maddon to join the pre-start run. By the end of the year, the entire Cubs team might be out there. 

"We just go out there and it's time for us to relax," Caratini said. "We talk about anything other than baseball. Just take it easy, have a few minutes to ourselves to talk and get to know each other a little bit better. 

"I think one of the things that for him, when he doesn't feel the pressure of the game, that's when you see him at his best. It's just a matter of him being relaxed and I think you can tell that by his last few outings."

Whatever it is, it's clearly working for Darvish. He spun another gem Tuesday night in New York, playing stopper with 8 innings of 1-run ball in a game his team badly needed to win. It was his longest outing in a Cubs uniform and quite possibly his best start during his historic streak.

 

The last few outings for Darvish hasn't just displayed comfort — it's shown fans something they've never seen before. Since at least 1893, no pitcher in Major League Baseball history has ever had five consecutive starts without walking a batter while striking out at least 8 guys each time out.

That streak ended Tuesday when Darvish walked Todd Frazier to begin the fifth inning, but he still had one of the best Augusts the game has ever seen:

Couple that with the fact Darvish struggled mightily with his control earlier in the season and it's a mind-boggling turnaround for the 33-year-old right-hander who has really come into his own in his second season with the Cubs.

All those strikeouts and lack of free passes has typically led to a bunch of success for Darvish in his overall box score, but last week, he was tagged for 7 runs (6 earned) in 5.1 innings because he gave up 4 homers to the Giants on a humid night at Wrigley.

He also confused Statcast to some extent because he suddenly whipped a brand new pitch out of his toolbelt.

Entering the start against a San Francisco lineup packed with lefties, Darvish and the Cubs decided to mess around with a knuckle curveball — a pitch he hadn't thrown yet in 2019. 

The idea was to give the Giants hitters a different look, as the knuckle curve has more of a straight drop (imagine 12-to-6 on a clock) compared to his regular curveball that is essentially a 1-7 drop that more closely resembles his slider. 

Darvish's knuckle curve has tighter movement and a tick up in velocity, so the Cubs thought it could be a more efficient breaking ball for him in some ways.

So he was playing catch with it prior to his last start as he warmed up in the Wrigley outfield grass and bullpen and decided to take it into the game.

"After we saw some of the swings we got on it early, it just became more a part of the gameplan," Hottovy said. "A testament to him, who hasn't thrown that pitch all year. He'll throw his curveball, he'll throw his slider, he can manipulate the baseball in many ways. Just adding that [knuckle curve] that got him the velocity he wanted and the right movement he wanted for that particularly lineup, so that's the cool thing.

"He knows it's available to him anytime he needs it now."

He said he got two strikeouts on that knuckle curve Tuesday night:

So that means Darvish's pitch repertoire now includes:

4-seam fastball
2-seam fastball
Cutter
Split-finger
Slider
Curveball
Knuckle curve

Cartini's going to run out of fingers...

Imagine being a hitter in the box and trying to guess which pitch is coming in which spot. 

Oh yeah, and he's throwing all of those pitches for strikes right now.

"He's got an amazing ability to command his breaking ball," Maddon said. "It's incredible. ... He's got an incredible command of a variety of different pitches. I don't know if I've ever witnessed — we've seen Jake Arrieta's [2015] season, beautiful — but I'm just talking about purely commanding a baseball and being inventive.

 

"He's able to manipulate his hand and his arm in a way that most guys cannot. He's just a different level of talent."