Cubs see Yu Darvish moving in the right direction as he returns to Wrigley Field

Cubs see Yu Darvish moving in the right direction as he returns to Wrigley Field

Yu Darvish said he wanted to hear "YUU!" instead of "BOO!" chanted at Wrigley Field this year during his starts.

He's about to get his chance. 

It's been almost a year since Darvish last pitched at Wrigley Field (May 2 against the Rockies) and this will only be his fourth career outing at The Friendly Confines in a Cubs uniform since he signed the 6-year, $126 million contract 14 months ago.

The numbers at home last year weren't good — 0-2, 5.40 ERA, 1.87 WHIP — but then again, 2018 was forgettable for Darvish in a lot of ways even before he was shut down with a bone bruise in his right pitching arm.

Unfortunately for him and the Cubs, this season has started off the same way. 

Darvish showed up to camp in Arizona looking like a different person, from the way he carried himself to the physical shape he was in to his confidence. To put it simply, he looked more free, which is exactly how he said he felt and what Joe Maddon and the rest of the Cubs coaches and front office members were seeing. 

He made four starts in Cactus League play, pitching around a blister issue and throwing up a 2.25 ERA while striking out 14 batters in 12 innings. 

However, he did walk 9 guys in those 12 frames and it's that lack of command that has translated to the regular season. 

In two starts so far in 2019, Darvish has walked 11 of the 36 batters he's faced, with 7 of those coming in just 2.2 innings in his return to Texas in Game 2 during Opening Weekend.

His next time out, Darvish's command was much improved, but he still walked 4 batters and gave up 5 hits and 3 runs and was pulled from the game after only 71 pitches and 4 innings. He insists the blister on his pitching hand is no longer an issue.

"The first start, obviously he was out of sorts and he had a hard time throwing strikes," Theo Epstein said. "The second start, there were a lot of positives with his stuff, especially his sider and cutter. And then he faced a little bit of adversity there, struggled a little bit and the outing was over pretty quickly.

"But hopefully he can build on the positives and have a good start on Wednesday night. But I don't think it's appropriate to issue start-to-start referendum on our starting pitchers as we go. He's looking to settle in. 

"The first start — as with a couple of our guys — wasn't what he looked for. He made some progress his last time and out; still certainly room for improvement going forward and I think he will."

Darvish's second start came in some tough conditions on a rainy night in Atlanta, but the weather didn't affect Braves starter Max Fried much, as he took a perfect game into the sixth inning.

Conditions will not be any better for Darvish's first home start on a cold and wet day in Chicago. Wind chill is expected to bump the temperature down to about 30 degrees for first pitch Wednesday night.

Cubs starting pitchers have accounted for the fewest innings in baseball to date (43, an average of 4.3 innings per start) and carry a 6.49 ERA into Wednesday night.


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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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