Joe Maddon compared Yu Darvish to a Hellcat, saying he wants to get the 32-year-old pitcher into sixth gear.
Darvish will just settle for getting through the sixth inning.
With his former team (Dodgers) in town, Darvish will not get a chance to face the guys he went to the World Series with back in 2017, as the Cubs are still leaning toward starting Jon Lester in Thursday's series finale if the veteran can continue his recovery from a hamstring injury.
But Darvish did speak about the rotation as a whole, admitting he's been the weak link since Lester went down more than two weeks ago (the Cubs pitching staff leads baseball in ERA since April 8).
"Apart from me, it's been good," Darvish said Tuesday afternoon.
He laughed a bit, but it was an honest assessment from an honest guy — Maddon said over the weekend that Darvish has no filter and can sometimes be "brutally honest").
When asked what he needs to do to take that next step, Darvish's answer was simple: "Be out there more than six innings."
In 13 career starts with the Cubs, Darvish has completed six innings just three times and he has never thrown a single pitch in the seventh inning. In 2017 — his first full season after Tommy John surgery — Darvish averaged a little over 6 innings a start with the Rangers and Dodgers.
He wants to get back to that point and knows the key to doing so is throwing his fastball for strikes.
"You gotta get guys like this that have all these different gears to work with in sixth gear and let him go," Maddon said. "We gotta get him up to 75, 80, 90, 100 [mph] on the Alligator Alley and let him just roll. It's all in there, man. I see it; I know what I'm seeing; I've seen it in the past.
"This is my take: as he gets more comfortable — and he is — and as he gets out there and he really gets into that free flow and doesn't hold himself back, just let it roll. Just let it rock and roll and let it happen. He has that kind of talent. He's got prodigious talent. We just gotta get him in sixth gear all the time."
After a slow start to the season (11 walks in 6.2 innings over his first two starts), Darvish has righted the ship a bit, lasting at least five innings each time and striking out 19 against only 7 walks in 16 frames. But he's been hit hard — allowing 5 homers and a .526 slugging percentage in that span.
Between the injury-riddled 2018 campaign and the rocky start to 2019 as he finds his footing, it's certainly not what the Cubs had in mind when they inked him to a 6-year, $126 million deal 14 months ago.
"The next step would be to continue doing what he's doing, actually," Maddon said. "I like the attacking of the strike zone. I like the method. He's much more comfortable here. I think he's more animated here this year. I like all of that.
"Last year, with all the problems he had physically, I think it was very difficult for him to demonstrate to all of us exactly who he was. I think it's gonna continue to get better. As he continues to get more comfortable, he's gonna get that game like you saw Chatwood throw [Sunday] and then all of a sudden, he's gonna hit that seminal moment and be able to take off.
"I just like him being him. That's an oversimplification. I think he's finally relaxed or exhaled here a bit now that we're eventually gonna see how good he can be."
Darvish will get his next opportunity to take that jump forward this weekend in Arizona.