Cubs

Yu Darvish impressive and efficient in rehab start, but questions still remain

Yu Darvish impressive and efficient in rehab start, but questions still remain

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Yu Darvish spun a 62 mph eephus pitch and walked calmly off the mound at Four Winds Field.

It was Darvish's 39th pitch of the evening for the South Bend Cubs in the Midwest League and a major step toward a return to the North Side of Chicago.

But the Cubs' $126 million man still wasn't able to fully declare his right triceps at 100 percent.

Darvish admitted he got more fatigued with his triceps as the game wore on, when he needed 18 pitches to get through his 5th and final inning.

"Not necessarily pain, but I can't for sure say there's nothing going on in the triceps," Darvish said through a translator. "It's not like anything bad, but I feel like anyone who comes off the DL goes through this. So I think this is more the process."

What Darvish showed on the field and what he said in front of the TV cameras and a group of reporters didn't quite match up Monday night.

On the mound, he needed only 57 pitches to get through his 5 innings, throwing 41 for strikes and giving the sold-out Indiana crowd at Four Winds Field plenty to cheer about.

Darvish was impressive and efficient, even if he was facing guys that are four promotions from the big leagues. His initial goal was to get through 4 innings, but he exceeded those expectations, leading to a self-assessed rating of a "12 out of 10" on the rehab stint with the organization's Class-A affiliate.

Darvish will fly to Los Angeles to meet up with his Cubs teammates in the middle of a four-game set with the Dodgers. He doesn't know if he will need another rehab start before he can return to the big-league rotation.

He acknowledged he needs to build up his conditioning and confidence after missing so much time and said he will chat with Cubs staff and coaches to determine the next step.

But is he still concerned about his physical condition?

"It's day-by-day," Darvish said. "It differs. I had some anxiety coming in towards this game as I did with the sim game. In that sense, it's the same, but hopefully I can build my confidence going forward."

Darvish has stated multiple times now — including after that sim game last week at Wrigley Field — he has felt anxiety about how he will hold up physically pitching off a mound and being able to really let it go.

Even though an MRI four weeks ago revealed no structural issue with his triceps, Darvish has said his past elbow issues (he had Tommy John surgery in March 2015) were in the back of his mind. 

"I think it has to be where both the right and left condition in the triceps has to feel the same — healthy," Darvish said. "So it's not necessarily having to go through more rehab starts, it's just how the body feels, how the triceps feels."

Monday night marked the first time in more than a month that the Cubs' biggest acquisition of the winter was able to get into a game.

Darvish struck out 5 batters, including that  4th-inning eephus that the West Michigan White Caps' designated hitter Reynaldo Rivera swung through. Rivera collected the first hit off Darvish in the second inning when he stroked a 1-0 pitch off the "Rose Pest Solutions" ad on the right field wall.

Darvish also served up a long home run to the White Caps' No. 9 hitter in the second inning, a blast that went to the left of this Tiki Hut in left field:

The only other baserunner Darvish allowed was another double off the wall, this time off the "Kountry Wood Products" sign in left-center. All 3 hits came off his splitter, which was clocked at 90-91 mph.

The veteran was able to dial it up to 94 mph with his fastball and threw all his pitches for strikes, using only fastball, sliders and a few splitters in the first 2 innings before busting out the curveball in the 3rd inning. 

Darvish didn't reach a 3-ball count on a hitter until the 5th inning and threw 31 of 39 pitches for strikes in the first 4 innings. His pitch count by inning: 5, 13, 10, 11, 18.

The 31-year-old right-hander last started in the majors on May 20, tossing 6 innings of 1-run ball in Cincinnati (the trip where the Cubs won 3 of 4, as opposed to this past weekend that turned in nightmarish results). He hit the disabled list shortly after that — over Memorial Day Weekend — with the triceps issue.

Darvish hit the disabled list the first time after his May 2nd start with the flu and missed a couple turns through the Cubs rotation. He threw 4 innings in Atlanta on May 15 before being removed from that start with leg cramps.

Darvish has not pitched at Wrigley Field since that May 2 start and only has 3 starts there this season.

On the whole in 2018, Darvish is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings for the big-league club.

Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

In the wake of the cheating allegations surrounding the Houston Astros, multiple parties have weighed in with their takes on the situation, and this includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish. He stated that this past season, he had noticed "weird behavior" from batters. Bleacher Nation then tweeted out a video showing Darvish stepping off the mound in a matchup against Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers, stating that he stepped off the mound because Yelich's "eyes move first...I'm not sure what he is trying to do."

Darvish then went on to elaborate that he wasn't trying to accuse the Brewers of stealing signs, rather that he was just stating what he had noticed in terms of batter behavior. Darvish made a minor grammar mistake, saying "your" instead of "you're" and when he responded to try to clarify that, it may have accidentally caused more confusion, as some mistakenly thought he was saying that Yelich indeed was stealing signs, but this was not the case.

That didn't stop Yelich from sounding off on Darvish with quite a harsh response, a response that was so harsh that some were shocked at the nature of it.

MLB free agent Josh Donaldson chimed in, humorously stating that he could definitely  use some help hitting off of Darvish and jokingly asked for what tips Yelich might have. 

Darvish then retweeted a few tweets that illustrated the point he was trying to make. 

Darvish also responded to Donaldson, saying that he doesn't think the third baseman needs any help hitting off of him either. 

At the end of the Darvish seems to be in a good place, and from his Twitter interactions, it is clear that he was not as upset or offended over the situation as Yelich was. 

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How the Cubs can get a Javier Báez deal done now

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USA TODAY

How the Cubs can get a Javier Báez deal done now

With the MLB GM Meetings now over, the Cubs will turn their attention to seeing how their fact-finding mission will influence their offseason makeover of the entire organization.

As Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday, the Cubs and Báez’s camp have begun negotiating a long-term contract extension. While many have speculated that Báez could command a massive salary that would rank among the top of MLB in terms of the total value, the Cubs do have some leverage. Báez still has two more years of club control, which should help to suppress the contract’s total value.

Put yourself in Báez’s shoes. If the Cubs offered you a six-year deal, would you do it? If you say yes, you have lifetime security for you and generations of the Báez family. However, you could be leaving money on the table because you would never reach free agency in the prime of your career.

Rejecting an offer of that size means you would have to perform at a level among the best players in all of baseball for two more seasons, and you would have to avoid serious injury as well. Báez plays with a flair and a passion that also puts his body in harm’s way on a daily basis.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, 27, is two months older than Báez and the highest paid shortstop in baseball at $20 million per season. He signed a six-year, $120 million contract in 2019, which runs through the 2026 season.

Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor — who was selected No. 8 overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, one spot before Báez — will also be a free agent after the 2021 season. He made $10.55 million in 2019 and is projected to make $16.7 million in 2020.

Báez is projected to make $9.3 million.

So, would Báez accept a deal that would protect him against injury and set him up with lifetime security, knowing that with two more seasons before free agency he would potentially leave significant money on the table?

There could be three elite shortstops on the free agent market after the 2021 season: Báez, Lindor and Trevor Story of the Rockies. This may affect what each guy could make on the open market and what they might be willing to accept in a deal now. 

Add in the fact that there will be a new MLB collective bargaining agreement by the time those three stars hit the market, and there should be some impetus for them to get a deal done now. Multiple MLB front office sources expect Lindor to be dealt before he reaches free agency and some of those same sources believe Story could be traded before then as well.

What about a deal that helps the Cubs achieve payroll flexibility in 2020 and 2021 and locks Báez in long-term?

A former high-ranking MLB executive suggested a deal structure that pays Báez $10 million in 2020, $16 million in 2021, plus six additional years at an average annual value of $23 million. That would bring the total value of the contract to $164 million.

Add in two club options for an additional two seasons at $30 million each and it allows Báez to have the largest contract of all active shortstops in MLB. Total value of the deal: $224 million; guaranteed value of the deal: $164 million.

A deal structured like that gives the Cubs certainty with one of their most talented and marketable players and protects Báez from serious injury for the rest of his career.

Would he sign a deal structured like that? I know I would. There is no greater feeling in the world than long-term financial security. A deal structured like this is a win-win for both sides.

If the Cubs won’t give Báez a deal in this ballpark, then they have to think about moving him now. You can’t allow a player of his magnitude to reach free agency and you absolutely cannot lose him to another team. He is on a potential Hall of Fame track and he is one of the most charismatic players in all of professional sports.

This deal has to get done.

If the Cubs can sign Báez for less than the aforementioned deal, then they should consider themselves very lucky.

Either way, get a deal done. Javy Báez has to be priority No. 1.

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