Results still mixed, but small improvements evident for Yu Darvish in Saturday's start against Cardinals

Results still mixed, but small improvements evident for Yu Darvish in Saturday's start against Cardinals

Before Saturday afternoon’s game against the Cardinals, Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked about how he wanted to see starting pitcher Yu Darvish throw on a ‘visceral level.’ He wanted him to ditch the scouting reports, the manager said, and “just become primal.”

The results -- four innings, five earned runs and five walks in a no-decision -- may not evoke quite the same colorful adjectives. Though it was another rocky start for Darvish, the concern that many outside the Cubs’ clubhouse share could not be found in it.

“Honestly, I thought he looked good for a while there,” Maddon said after the Cubs’ 6-5 win. “I felt good about him in the beginning. Even when [Jose] Martinez hit the home run - I’d prefer a homer to a walk right there.”

Darvish continued to struggle with command, as the five walks he issued were the most since he walked seven in Texas back in late March.

“We had a good game plan, and I felt really good about my sinker today,” Darvish said. “But I used too much of [it].”

The game unraveled for Darvish in the 4th. After Jose Martinez led off with a ground rule double to right, walks issued to Kolten Wong and Dexter Fowler loaded the bases with only one out. Then it was Cardinals’ starting pitcher Michael Wacha, of all people, who poked a ground ball into left field for a two-RBI single. Matt Carpenter followed that with a RBI ground ball of his own, and the damage was done.

“I thought he was going to settle in, but then there was a ground ball base hit by the pitcher and a ground ball base hit by Carpenter - those were ground balls, that’s actually a good pitch,” Maddon said. “Then going back out, after we scored those runs, I wanted to give him an opportunity and he was just unable to settle back in. That’s where he’s gotta grab the game and pitch into the 6th inning possibly.”

After Darvish opened the 5th with two more walks and a wild pitch, his afternoon was over. A well-rested Cubs bullpen took over, with six different guys holding St. Louis to three hits over the final five innings. He wasn’t exactly cheated, either: Wacha’s two-RBI single had an exit velocity of 98.6 mph; Carpenter’s left the bat at 95.

“I think Yu threw the ball really well,” catcher and Saturday’s star Taylor Davis said. “The results are going to be misleading for people that didn’t watch the game. I think at the end of the day he had some really quality pitches.”

The postgame quotes would almost certainly be different had Javy Baez not crushed a game-winning homer into the right field bleachers during the bottom of the 8th inning. It’s easier to swallow four innings of tinkering when you come away with the win regardless. Still, between Darvish himself, his personal catcher, and his manager, the message was a unified one: there’s improvement happening, in some way, each time out.

“I was talking with Tommy [Hottovoy] after the game, and my fastball was very good today,” Davish added. “My program is about throwing strikes with my fastball, but now I can throw strikes with my two-seamer, so I can do a lot more.

“I’m close.”

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Brandon Kintzler, Cubs most consistent reliever in 2019, signs with Marlins: report


Brandon Kintzler, Cubs most consistent reliever in 2019, signs with Marlins: report

Brandon Kintzler officially won't be back on the North Side in 2020.

Saturday, ESPN's Jesse Rogers reported Kintzler has agreed to a one-year, $3 million deal with the Marlins. The deal includes a $4 million option for 2021.

Kintzler was the Cubs' most consistent reliever in 2019, sporting a 2.68 ERA and 1.02 WHIP (both career highs) in 62 appearances. He was effective against both righties and lefties, the latter of which hit .163 against him.

The Cubs haven't been connected to Kintzler this offseason and have instead accumulated a plethora of low-cost, high-potential relievers. The organization has been extremely cognizant of MLB's luxury tax threshold after surpassing it in 2019 and wants to avoid becoming a repeat offender in 2020.

Kintzler becomes the second reliable reliever to depart the Cubs in free agency this winter, along with sidearmer Steve Cishek (White Sox). Pedro Strop is still a free agent, and while the Cubs have been connected to him, a recent report says the race to sign him is down to the Marlins and Rangers.

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4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list


4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

MLB Pipeline unveiled its annual top 100 prospects list on Saturday, and four Cubs minor leaguers made the cut.

Nico Hoerner (SS; No. 51), Brailyn Marquez (LHP; 68), Brennen Davis (OF; 78) and Miguel Amaya (C; 95) cracked the list for the North Siders. It’s the first time the Cubs have had four players on the list since 2016: Ian Happ (No. 21), Eloy Jimenez (23), Albert Almora Jr. (82) and Dylan Cease (98).

So yeah, it’s been a minute.

Cubs fans are most familiar with Hoerner; the 22-year-old made his big-league debut last September in an emergency spot after Javy Báez and Addison Russell got hurt. Hoerner hit .282/.305/.436 in 20 games and held his own defensively.

Hoerner is ranked as the No. 9 overall shortstop prospect, and he’ll get an opportunity to make the 2020 Opening Day roster. With Báez entrenched at shortstop, Hoerner will shift to second base and potentially play some center field, though he's still learning the latter.

Marquez, 20, is Pipeline’s No. 9 left-handed pitching prospect. The Cubs have struggled to develop homegrown starting pitching under Theo Epstein. In fact, Marquez is the first Cubs pitcher (LHP or RHP) to crack MLB Pipeline’s top 10 pitchers list during Epstein’s tenure on the North Side.

Marquez sported a 3.13 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 22 starts between Single-A South Bend and advanced-A Myrtle Beach in 2019. The 20-year-old struck out 128 batters in 103 2/3 innings, walking 50.

Cubs senior director of player development Matt Dorey said the club has “really high expectations” for Marquez this season.

“Brailyn, his last half of last year in Myrtle was an epic run, just in terms of the raw stuff, the strikes, the breaking ball development,” Dorey said Sunday at Cubs Convention. “I think it’s a little early to decide where he’s going to start [the season], but I would guess Double-A.

“But I wanna see how he comes into camp — especially with our new pitching infrastructure — that we’re not missing anything with his delivery or anything from a pitch data perspective. We want to make sure that’s really tied before we send him out [for] a long, full season. It’s such a big year for him. But I think it would be foolish to put any cap on what he can do this year.”

Marquez allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his final 10 starts (he allowed three earned runs on Aug. 26 — the lone exception). The Cubs promoted him to Myrtle Beach on Aug. 6, where he posted a 1.71 ERA with 26 strikeouts and seven walks in five starts (26 1/3 innings).

The Cubs drafted Davis out of high school in 2018 (second round, No. 62 overall). The 20-year-old was more of a basketball player and had some Division I offers, but he ultimately signed with the Cubs and received a $1.1 million bonus.

Davis is considered to be a raw, athletic talent. He hit .305/.381/.525 with eight homers and a 160 wRC+ in 50 games with South Bend last season. He missed time after getting hit on the hand on two separate occasions.

Although Davis is listed as a center fielder (199 innings in 2019) he played left almost as frequently (193 2/3) in 2019. Pipeline projects him to make his big-league debut in 2022.

Amaya spent all of 2019 with Myrtle Beach, slashing .235/.351/.402 with a 122 wRC+ in 99 games. His defense has always been ahead of his bat, and he’s known to be an advanced catcher for his age.

The Cubs added Amaya to the 40-man roster in November in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. However, he won’t make his big-league debut until 2021, at the earliest.

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