As Yu Darvish struggles again, Cubs search for answers

/ by Tony Andracki
Presented By Cubs Insiders

Yu Darvish might be one of the first pitchers in history to hear boos from fans during a no-hit his own ballpark.

However, is it possible to actually call an outing a "no-hit bid" if the starter doesn't even throw a pitch in the fifth inning?

Darvish managed just 4 innings in the Cubs' 4-1 victory Thursday afternoon but allowed only 1 hit — a groundball through the right side with 2 outs in the fourth inning. That single — off the bat of .188-hitting outfielder Rosell Herrera — also drove in the only run off the Cubs starter, so Darvish was actually able to lower his season ERA to 5.40 on the afternoon.

But his walk rate is going in the opposite direction after doling out 6 free passes against a Marlins team that ranks dead last in Major League Baseball in just about every offensive category.

Darvish has now walked 33 batters in 36.2 innings in 2019, which leads baseball. For perspective, Tyler Chatwood walked 32 batters in his first 37.2 innings of 2018 en route to leading the league in free passes.

Darvish carries an 8.1 BB/9 rate on the season, though he came into 2019 with only a career rate of 3.4 BB/9.

Joe Maddon said before the game he's seeing better stuff from Darvish this year than last year and the strikeouts tease that potential — 7 whiffs in 4 innings Thursday and 44 in 36.2 innings on the season. Right now, it's just that Maddon and the Cubs feel Darvish is thinking too much on the mound and trying to be too fine.


"Yeah, until last outing, I was thinking too much, like 'I have to throw a strike,'" Darvish said. "But today, I was focusing more on attacking hitters. Just command was off, that's it.

"I'm a thinker over my almost 15-year career, but absolutely it's too much. I want to be better, so it's my challenge, but I think it's good for me."

The Cubs have tried everything to make this successful, including pairing Darvish up with Taylor Davis after the two worked well together and got good results (6 innings, 1 run) in Arizona on the last road trip. Davis was behind the plate for both of Darvish's starts on this homestand, but the 32-year-old pitcher has managed just 8 innings — and walked 11 batters — combined in those outings.

"I don't know if it's as much thinking too much as it is caring too much, if that sounds crazy," Davis said. "He just really wants to make the perfect pitch when he doesn't have to. So that's kinda what I reiterate to him, like 'Look, man, your stuff is so good that you don't have to make the perfect pitch.' He's starting to get that."

For all the talk of a brand new and comfortable Darvish this year, the results have been worse than last year. To date, it hasn't affected the Cubs as a team much — they boast the best pitching staff and have the best record in baseball since April 8.

"I think the sensitivity's lessening. I think he's really being able to focus on just pitching a lot more this year than I've seen in the past," Maddon said before Thursday's game. "Again, conversationally, he's saying and doing all the right things. I think the stuff we've seen already, we did not see last year at all. Just purely stuff which I think is a great place to start with him. 

"I contend that if we could just turn [his brain] off a little bit and just go play, you're gonna see a great result. Honestly, I've said it almost every time — just to become a little bit more visceral and just stay out of the intellectual part of this thing and just permit his talents to take over. They are that good. His stuff is that good. 

"So if we could just arrive at that point, and I think we can. As I saw him walk in here [over a year ago] and where he's at right now, I've seen significant improvement. That would be the last step for me to really, truly gain the most out of his abilities."

We'll see if he can do that the next time out, as Maddon confirmed the Cubs are not entertaining the thought of skipping Darvish's turn in the rotation or anything like that.

"I honestly don't think so," Maddon said. "You just gotta keep putting him out there. He also struck out 7 guys. Physically, it's all good. It's frustrating for him, of course, but we gotta just keep working it.


"I don't have any solid answers. He's healthy, the ball coming out of the hand really well, we've just gotta be more consistent in the zone. it's not that complicated."

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