Cubs

Finally, some optimism surrounding Yu Darvish's rehab

Finally, some optimism surrounding Yu Darvish's rehab

Yu Darvish hasn't spoken to Alex Rodriguez, but he has a plan ready if the former player and current ESPN broadcaster were to reach out:

"If he sends me a text message or something, I'll keep it, maybe take a screenshot, print it out, frame it," Darvish said through a translator.

That officially ended his media session before Saturday's game, but Darvish wasn't done yet:

"I'm not joking," he said in English as he walked away.

It's been a little while since we've seen that sense of humor and edge from Darvish.

He has plenty of bulletin board material for his Comeback Tour and for the first time in what feels like forever, there is actually optimism surrounding Darvish's rehab.

He threw around 55 pitches Saturday morning in the Cubs bullpen underneath the left-field bleachers. That includes warm-up pitches and the Cubs also simulated an inning break by having him throw some pitches, sit down for about five minutes and then get back up and finish off the session.

Darvish worked in every pitch in his arsenal and said he felt good after. Instead of talking about any anxiety or discomfort after a throwing session like previous instances, he instead was looking toward the future, discussing facing hitters as the next step.

"Yeah, certainly [this is the best I've felt]," Darvish said through a translator. "I think all my pitches, velocity-wise were up there at the highest and then I was able to follow through with my arm motion.

"Definitely now that I'm pitching, very optimistic about the process now."

The Cubs don't have a set plan, but if Darvish reports all is well physically Sunday, the next step would be a simulated game against his Cubs teammates. 

Darvish felt like he turned a corner physically about 10 days ago and believes it could possibly be because he and Cubs trainers put more emphasis on treating his back and triggering a "more positive flow."

The Cubs always treat every area of a player's body while they're rehabbing, which makes sense. Just because a guy is on the disabled list for an elbow or triceps injury doesn't mean he or the Cubs trainers can neglect other parts of his body as he tries to get back into game shape.

"Everything up until this point, there was a little bit of pain and discomfort involved," Darvish said. "So I was just trying to see alternatives and it ended up being in the back.

"I can't say for certain [the back treatment helped the arm], but timing-wise, that's when I started the treatment and discomfort and everything went away. So it could be a factor."

Whether the back was the key in the recovery or not, the 31-year-old pitcher has said the whole process recently has been better than it was before.

He's been on quite the roller coaster the last three months. 

After a start at Wrigley Field on May 2, Darvish was placed on the disabled list with the flu. He returned May 15 in Atlanta and had to leave that game due to leg cramps.

He made one more start — May 20 in Cincinnati — before again hitting the disabled list, this time with triceps tightness.

That triceps issue was addressed and Darvish worked up to a rehab start in Class-A South Bend on June 25.

But he reported some discomfort after that 57-pitch outing and then had to have his ensuing bullpen halted in Los Angeles later that week.

Darvish flew to Texas to get a second opinion on his arm, where it was discovered he had an elbow impingement. He received a cortisone shot in that elbow on June 29 and now has been working his way back from that ordeal over the last five weeks.

The Cubs have taken things slow with the veteran right-hander, especially given his history (he had Tommy John surgery in March 2015).

Theo Epstein said before the trade deadline the Cubs knew they realistically couldn't rely on Darvish returning and making an impact for this team, so they went out and acquired one of Darvish's former teammates — Cole Hamels — to help bolster the rotation.

Even in a best case scenario, Darvish is still weeks away from being able to throw on a Cubs uniform and pitch in front of the Wrigley Field fans again.

But this is absolutely a step in the right direction and if he does return, it could be perfect timing for the team a few weeks before the postseason. 

A Darvish return could also mean the Cubs flip Mike Montgomery back from the rotation into the bullpen as they keep an eye on the southpaw's workload (he's on pace for a career-high in innings pitched).

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

The Wrigley Field basket has played a huge role in this week's Cubs-Reds series.

In Monday night's game, Cincinnati catcher Curt Casali hit a game-tying homer into the basket in the seventh inning of a game the Cubs went on to lose.

But the basket giveth and the basket also taketh away.

Tuesday night, it was Kyle Schwarber and the Cubs who were singing the praises of one of the strangest ballpark quirks in baseball.

Schwarber connected on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias, hitting a fly ball through the impossibly-humid air and into the basket in left-centerfield for a 4-3 Cubs win.

"Whoever thought about that basket — whenever that occurred — tell them, 'thank you,'" Joe Maddon said. "Although it did work against us [Monday]. When it works for you, it's awesome."

Schwarber has stood under the left-field basket many times with his back against the wall, thinking he might be able to make a play on a high fly ball only to see it settle into the wickets and turn into a chance for a Bleacher Bum to show off their arm. 

But is he a huge fan of the basket now that it worked in his favor?

"I guess so," Schwarber laughed. "Yesterday, it cost us, but today, it helped us out. It's just the factor of Wrigley Field. Happy it worked out today."

It was Schwarber's first career walk off RBI of any kind.

It was the Cubs' fourth walk-off homer of the season, but their first since May 11 when Willson Contreras called "game" on the Milwaukee Brewers. 

The Cubs are now 4-1 since the All-Star Break and hold a 2.5-game lead in the division.

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Big changes to the Cubs roster

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Big changes to the Cubs roster

Doug Glanville and Ozzie Guillen join Leila Rahimi on Baseball Night in Chicago to discuss all things baseball.

The talk about the trade that sent Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery to the Royals in exchange for Martin Maldonado, Willson Contreras' injury that sent him to the injured list and an update on the White Sox roster moves and rebuild status.

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