The next step for Yu Darvish? Hitting that 'sixth gear'

The next step for Yu Darvish? Hitting that 'sixth gear'

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.

Andy Green ‘fired up’ to be with Cubs, help David Ross any way he can

Andy Green ‘fired up’ to be with Cubs, help David Ross any way he can

It’s quite fitting Andy Green’s introduction to Cubs Nation came at the team’s annual fan festival this weekend.

Green, whom the Cubs officially hired as bench coach in December, grew up a Reds fan in his native Lexington, Ky. It wasn’t long before his allegiances changed to one of Cincinnati’s geographic neighbors, however.

“I went to [former Reds ballpark Riverfront Stadium] as a kid at like 5, 6, 7, first time I saw big-league baseball,” Green told NBC Sports Chicago on Saturday. “But my mom took me up to Wrigley at 12 or 13. I was like ‘This is big-league baseball.’

“I switched over allegiances that time as a Cubs fan, watched Ryne Sandberg — Mark Grace was somebody who jumped off the page to me at that point in time. It was late 80s, early 90s.”

After four years managing the Padres, Green’s childhood fandom has come full circle. Now, he’s David Ross’ right-hand man, brought in to use his own experience managing to help the first-year manager adapt to his new position.

When Green took the helm in San Diego in 2016, the Padres were in the thick of a full-scale rebuild. He holds a 274-366 won-loss record, but that isn’t indicative of what he’s bringing to the Cubs dugout.

“Andy so far for me probably [has been] the biggest help for me in directing my thoughts, getting things organized, getting prepared,” Ross said Saturday at a coaching staff panel. “This guy has been through the season, the National League, knows the details of what it takes to lead.

“Obviously, his resume and what he’s done building a young group over in San Diego speaks for itself. Who he is as a person, Andy right off the bat probably [has] been the biggest help for me. Sends me text messages, emails about leading, about coaching. I can’t say enough about this guy, and I’m very blessed to have him next to me in every game. You guys are gonna see a great product, and a lot of my big decisions, I’ll have a great mind next to me helping me make those.”

Green said he’s spent the last few months learning what Ross’ vision is as a manager and how he intends to execute it going forward. Managing games and preparing for them are different beasts, but Green can already see the intangibles that could make Ross successful.

“He’s fun to work with, he’s hungry to win, he can hold people accountable and smile at the same time, which is an unbelievable skillset that I don’t have,” Green said of Ross. “People feel it when I come down on them. They feel love when he comes down on them. He just has that [relatability] that very few people do, and that’s incredibly impressive to me.”

Accountability has been the word of the offseason for the Cubs. After five seasons with Joe Maddon as manager, the club felt it was time for a new voice in the dugout. They hired Ross not only to try and make the team greater than the sum of its parts, but also hold players accountable, putting them in their place and using tough love when needed.

Ross will have a lot on his plate this season, so he'll rely on Green to lead in areas as needed and take a load off his plate.

“For [managers], there’s a large number of tasks that if you have a capable staff, you can just delegate and not even think about,” Green said. “I want to take that kind of stuff off his plate, stuff that doesn’t have to have the manager’s attention, because you can get some decision fatigue, because it’s amazing what comes at you in that seat.

“I know what that feels like, so every now and again, it’s nice to have somebody who doesn’t just have the answer but has the feelings that come with the answer. I’ve enjoyed it, and honestly, it’s a whatever he needs type thing. My vision on him is I’ve watched him do so much prep work this offseason getting ready for game decisions. He’s going to be great. He’s going to be great.”

It also helps that Green has four years of managing under his belt. Ross can learn from his successes in San Diego, but also learn from Green’s failures to ensure he doesn’t make the same mistakes common in new managers.

“It takes a little minute to know where the best answer is on the bench, and he’ll figure that out pretty quickly,” he said of Ross. “Executing the game decisions, you have to find out in time how he processes those things.

“I made a lot of mistakes. He can learn from my mistakes without having to make them himself. If you can share things in humility, a lot of times it keeps somebody else from repeating your mistakes. There’s things I messed up on, things I did well too. Kinda share those visions along the way and make certain the whole way that this is David Ross’ team and he’s leading this team and all I’m here to do is support and help him and help the players perform at their top level.”

Green spent four years with a losing club. He’s joining a Cubs team full of star players — which, as functioning infield coach on a team with Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, excites him. He wants to win now and believes Ross is the man to lead the way.

And, again, the lure of being a Chicago Cub was strong.

“The fan base is one that you’re fired up to go to work for and bring a winner to,” he said. “Whatever part I can play in that, I’m fired up to do it.”

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Willson Contreras, expert at going viral, tells hilarious profanity-laced story from 2019

Willson Contreras, expert at going viral, tells hilarious profanity-laced story from 2019

Willson Contreras and viral moments at Cubs Convention go hand-in-hand.

At the team’s annual fan festival in 2018, Contreras stole the show with a story from the 2017 season. During a mound visit against the Cardinals, the Cubs catcher gave profanity-laced advice to Jon Lester, the Cubs starter who rarely throws pickoffs due to a serious case of the yips.

"I went out there and I said, 'Hey motherf--ker, throw the f--king ball to first,'” Contreras recalled in January 2018.

Contreras stole the show again Saturday, telling a story about a moment against the Cardinals — this time from the 2019 season.

“So last year, we were facing the Cardinals and I started talking to [Marcell] Ozuna,” Contreras said. “He told me ‘Just call a fastball right down the middle.’ [And I said] ‘Yeah okay, I will.’ Then I called the fastball and he took it.

“I told him ‘What the f— are you talking about? Just hit the ball, just hit it.’

“He asked me ‘Just call it again.’ And I did it. He took it. Swing the [bat]. I called a third pitch and it was a strikeout. And then next time it was like just ‘Shut up,” or something."

Warning: graphic language

How Contreras will top this at 2021 Cubs Convention is uncertain, but considering he now has two viral moments on his resume, we can be sure the next one will be just as amazing.

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