Cubs

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.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Redemption Stories & Schwarber Leading Off

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Redemption Stories & Schwarber Leading Off

Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by the Cubs Postgame Live team of David Kaplan and David DeJesus to break down all the various redemption stories on the 2019 Cubs, ranging from Kris Bryant returning from an injury-plagued campaign to Tyler Chatwood becoming a legitimate weapon out of the bullpen (1:00). Then, the guys discuss how well Kyle Schwarber is performing out of the leadoff spot over the last week (11:45).

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

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Kyle Schwarber finding his niche in Cubs' leadoff spot: 'He’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be'

Kyle Schwarber finding his niche in Cubs' leadoff spot: 'He’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be'

After two seasons alternating table setters atop their lineup, the Cubs may finally have found a consistent leadoff hitter in Kyle Schwarber.

“It’s one of those things you have to believe it to see it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s game against the Reds. “And sometimes there’s other folks that have to see it to believe it. I just thought it was the right time.”

Schwarber started his 11th-straight game on Friday, hitting leadoff in the last nine games of that stretch. Unlike his abysmal tenure leading off in 2017, though, Schwarber is getting into a groove hitting first for the Cubs this season.

In 2017, Schwarber hit leadoff 37 times; not only did he slash a woeful .190/.312/.381 with seven home runs, but he walked 24 times compared to 48 strikeouts. The Cubs went with a leadoff-man by committee approach the rest of the season, as 10 other players hit leadoff at least once.

Schwarber has flipped the script as a leadoff hitter this season. Although the sample size is small, he’s slashing .265/.372/.618, (34 at-bats) with three home runs and seven walks compared to 12 strikeouts.

“Again, I liked it back then, I did. However, he did not react to it well in that moment,” Maddon said. “But if you look at his overall abilities as they stand right now, for me, that’s the perfect spot for him, especially in our lineup.

“He’s made some adjustments recently, he’s more mature as a hitter, he’s understanding it better. All of those things are involved. I like it; I could’ve done it earlier this year, but he really wasn’t doing what he’s doing right now earlier this year.

“I think this last three weeks or so, he’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be.”

Schwarber certainly has been trending upwards since the calendar flipped to May. In April, he slashed .211/.282/.338 with 25 strikeouts and seven walks. While he’s hitting .224 this month, he holds a stellar .389 OBP (.837 OPS), walking 19 times compared to 21 strikeouts.

“There’s things that he’s doing right now that are permitting him to be more consistent,” Maddon said. “Like the other day, that first at-bat walk against [Max] Scherzer in what was such a big at-bat. There was like four pitches all over the place and he didn’t swing.”

Schwarber walked in both of his at-bats against Scherzer on May 17 on a combined 10 pitches. He took four pitches out of the zone the first time around and four more the second at-bat. On the latter instance, the only strikes came on foul balls.

All of this is not to say that the days of Schwarber hitting for power are over. He has four home runs in May, three of which have come in the leadoff spot. And while RBI chances aren’t as prevalent for leadoff hitters, Maddon mentioned how Schwarber has room to grow.

“To this point, he hasn’t really been the RBI guy that you might envision. He’s been more the table setter,” he said. “I think as he learns his craft better, of course he can drive in runs more consistently.

"He’s on the verge of doing that right now. The benefit has been for him to set the table more than cleaning it up to this point, but I think he has the abilities to do both.”

Following the Cubs’ 6-5 loss to the Reds on Friday, Maddon reiterated his confidence in his latest No. 1 hitter. Schwarber went 1-for-4 with a home run, a walk and a strikeout.

“I like his at-bats right now in general,” he said. “That’s kind of why I did what I did, because I think that it’s become a more mature at-bat and the more the stays up there, the more comfortable he’s going to get.”

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