ARLINGTON, Texas — The Cubs won't overreact to Yu Darvish's season debut Saturday in Texas.
They know it's only one start and no significant conclusion can be drawn beyond his health.
But Darvish wasn't able to make it through the third inning against the Rangers, walking 7 of the 16 batters he faced and throwing only 38 of his 75 pitches for strikes. He also served up a 2-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera one batter before he was pulled.
Darvish sat around 93 mph with his fastball, which is a bit low for his standards, but that dip could be easily explained by the fact he couldn't locate his fastball for the entire evening.
"He had a good spring. I'm not gonna be like overwhelmed or underwhelmed," Maddon said before the game. "I'm just looking for — this time of year — it's about continually stretching the guy out, getting deeper into the game. For him, throwing strikes and feeling comfortable out there.
"That's the biggest thing I'm looking for. I'm not looking into this too deeply at all. Of course you're looking for a good performance. But to keep a close eye on him, when the [pitch count] number gets up too high, get him out."
Maddon said he was hoping for Darvish to get through at least five innings. Coming off a recent blister issue, Darvish said Thursday he has no limitations and he can climb over 100 pitches if need be. Obviously neither scenario happened.
He struck out the first two batters he faced and looked to be headed for a good outing, but the wheels fell off from there. He then walked the bases loaded before striking out Cabrera to end the first inning.
"First couple guys, I felt good. But after that, i lost my command, especially the fastball," Darvish said. "I can't tell why right now. I have to look at the video tomorrow. Ball was fine, mound was fine, just all about me."
The bone bruise/elbow injury that limited Darvish to just 8 starts and 40 innings a year ago is firmly in the rearview mirror. He came to Cubs camp looking like a completely different person this spring — more muscle, better health, less metaphorical weight on his shoulders.
That didn't immediately carry over into the regular season. In his first start since May 20 of last year, Darvish became only the second pitcher in the last 5 seasons to walk 6 batters in the first 2 innings, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Yu Darvish is only the 2nd pitcher (Carlos Martinez) in the last 5 seasons to walk 6 hitters in the first 2 innings— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) March 31, 2019
Look, spring is over and none of those stats from Cactus League play matter. But there is something to be said for a player feeling less pressure in Year 2 of a free agent megadeal — Jon Lester and Jason Heyward went through the same thing in a Cubs uniform a few years ago.
The main takeaway from Darvish's start Saturday wasn't the lack of command, but rather the fact that he came away healthy.
"The big thing about Yu this year for me — he was much more comfortable," Maddon said. "He felt more comfortable being around us. It was reflected in his work; he was more at ease. Still throwing the ball really well — his command was even better, velocity was up.
"I think physically he felt better and he also felt better about his environment. So I think both of those items contributed to him having a great spring. Just keep him healthy and he's gonna have a good season."
One positive from the outing was the fact Darvish got a chance to pitch in front of the Rangers fans that rooted for him when he first came to America and in the final year of this ballpark in Arlington. He said Texas was where he felt like he grew up as a professional baseball player during the five years he pitched in a Rangers uniform.
Did pitching back in Arlington create a situation that led to any of the loss of command?
Darvish admitted he was emotional in his return to Texas, but neither he nor catcher Willson Contreras thought that was the contributing factor.
"From what I saw, he was trying to be too fine with his pitches," said Contreras, who also confirmed everything looked normal coming out of Darvish's hand. "Trying to be too perfect got him a little bit out of the zone."