Yu Darvish

Quick takes: Yu Darvish continues Cubs rotation's hot start, bullpen delivers

Quick takes: Yu Darvish continues Cubs rotation's hot start, bullpen delivers

The Cubs continued their winning ways on Wednesday in Kansas City, taking down the Royals 6-1. Yu Darvish threw seven solid innings and the offense tacked on some insurance runs late. Here are some takeaways from the game:

Keep the ball rolling

After his last start Friday, Yu Darvish said he felt like he did in the second half of 2019, acknowledging he still needed to work on some things — mechanics, command and his cutter. He followed that up with his second straight quality outing of the season.

Darvish tossed seven innings of one-run ball, allowing five hits and a walk while striking out four. Two of those hits — a double and single — came in the third inning and resulted in Kansas City’s lone run. Four of the five were singles.

Outside of the third, Darvish only ran into trouble in the sixth. With Whit Merrifield on third and one out, he froze Ryan O’Hearn with a 97-mph sinker on the inside corner for a strikeout and then got Salvador Pérez to groundout to Javier Báez to end the frame.

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The Cubs have now thrown six straight quality starts and nine total this season. Their rotation ERA stands at a pristine 1.95. 

Baserunning lapse

After a Kris Bryant single and Anthony Rizzo walk, the Cubs were in business to start the fourth inning. Báez dropped a bloop single into right field to bring home Bryant but didn’t run immediately out of the batter’s box, watching the ball.

The hit dropped near the foul line but Báez could have had a double. That would have set the Cubs up with runners on second and third with none out.

RELATED: Cubs' David Ross defends Javier Báez, doesn't 'nitpick' baserunning lapse

Instead, Rizzo advanced to third and Báez to first, and Willson Contreras grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to score Rizzo. The Cubs came away with two runs but had a chance for more.

Taking advantage of mistakes

The Cubs tacked on some insurance runs in the eighth after Bryant reached on a two-out error by Royals third baseman Maikel Franco. Rizzo, Báez and Contreras hit consecutive singles to score two runs, putting the Cubs ahead 4-1.

In the ninth, Victor Caratini scored from first on a single by Bryant after Merrifield bobbled the ball in center. Both errors gave the Cubs some added breathing room.

Scoreless outing from bullpen

Ahead 4-1 in the ninth, the Cubs had Rowan Wick and Colin Rea warming up, Wick for a potential save and Rea if the offense scored a few more. They did just that, adding two runs and removing the save opportunity. 

Rea, the 2019 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, pitched a scoreless ninth inning, allowing an infield single with two strikeouts. Setup man Jeremy Jeffress delivered a 1-2-3 eighth inning with one strikeout. It's the third scoreless outing from the bullpen in the last four games.

Stanford connection

Former Stanford teammates Nico Hoerner and Kris Bubic squared off for the first time as professionals on Wednesday. The two are Bay Area natives and have known each other dating back to high school.

Bubic got the best of Hoerner this time around, getting him to pop out to right field and ground out to third base.

Where they stand

The Cubs improved to 10-2, surpassing their 9-3 start through 12 games from 2016.

On Deck

The Cubs and Royals will wrap up their four-game season series on Thursday in Kansas City. Tyler Chatwood and Brad Keller are the probable starters.

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How Yu Darvish began to recreate his success from the second half of last year

How Yu Darvish began to recreate his success from the second half of last year

Yu Darvish shuffled across Waveland Avenue in sweat pants and slides. A family of Cubs fans snapped photos from in front of the fire station before Friday's game.

Darvish acknowledged them but kept beelining toward the Wrigley Field gate. Even off the field he had his own unique flare and focus.

On the mound later that day, that was even more apparent.

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In the Cubs’ 6-3 win over the Pirates Friday, Darvish threw six shutout innings and resembled the lights-out starter he was in the second of last season.

“Today I felt the same as the second half,” he said. “But still I need to work on my mechanics and normal cutter and command. But I feel like it’s really close or almost the same.”

The first time through the rotation, Darvish was the only starter who didn’t have his best stuff. Kyle Hendricks threw a complete game shutout. Jon Lester threw five no-hit innings.  Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills each pitched six innings and allowed fewer than three runs.

Then there was Darvish, who gave up three runs in four innings. Not terrible under the circumstances of a pandemic and a three-week summer camp. But not up his standard.

Darvish said he wanted to work on his splitter, changeup and hard cutter before his next start.

On Saturday, he took a different approach.

“I tried to throw fewer hard cutters,” Darvish said. “I used the normal cutter, knuckle curveball and four-seam. And that worked tonight.”

After walking the first batter he faced, Adam Frazier, Darvish picked off Frazier at first and retired the next two in order. He gave up just two hits, both singles with no one on base. Both pitches were at the edge of or out of the zone.

“Yu was great tonight,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Had it all working. Just spinning the breaking ball really well in the zone, out of the zone. Looked like the splitty showed up tonight and then a couple times there, late fastballs just blowing guys’ doors off.”

The 18 whiffs he generated were a testament to just how good all those pitches were.

“I didn’t know that,” Darvish said when that statistic came up in his postgame interview. “But that’s enough.”

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Quick takes: Yu Darvish deals in Cubs win over Pirates to open the series

Quick takes: Yu Darvish deals in Cubs win over Pirates to open the series

The Cubs opened the series against the Pirates with a 6-3 win at Wrigley Field.

Starting pitcher Yu Darvish bounced back from a loss in his first outing of the season to dominate on the mound Friday. The Cubs offense chipped in a combination of power hitting and an affinity for taking advantage of free passes from Pittsburgh.

They racked up enough insurance runs for it to not matter when closer Craig Kimbrel gave up back-to-back home runs in the ninth inning.

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Here are takeaways from the game:

Darvish deals

Darvish’s start had been pushed back a day due to rain in Cincinnati Thursday. But that didn’t throw Darvish, who pitched six shutout innings.

After his first start of the season, he said, “I’m almost there.”

He got there on Friday.

Darvish struck out seven – including three in a row in the fourth inning -- and allowed just two hits. But even those two hits came on good pitches. Colin Moran singled on a sinker out of the zone in the second inning. Cole Tucker singled on a cutter over the edge of the plate in the fifth.

Who wore it best?

Anthony Rizzo has been hit by a pitch six times already this season, leading the league. But on Friday, that sixth hit-by-pitch played a crucial role in the Cubs’ first run.

Kris Bryant had reached base on a walk, and Rizzo wore a pitch off his left elbow to move Bryant to second.

Up next was Javier Báez, who dropped a sneaky bunt back at Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams. The pitcher stepped off the mound to field the ball but fired an errant throw past first base. Bryant scored standing up. The Cubs took a 1-0 lead in the third inning.

Welcome home, Kipnis

Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis hit his first home run as a Cub in the fourth inning Friday.

The Northbrook native spent the first nine seasons of his MLB career in Cleveland, before signing with the Cubs in February as a free agent.

The homecoming, in a season with empty stands and a 60-game schedule, wasn’t quite what he pictured. But on Friday, he hit a milestone in his Cubs tenure.

Kipnis turned on an inside pitch and launched it 418 feet, at least halfway up the right field bleachers.

A taste of their own medicine

The Cubs bullpen entered play Friday as the most walk-happy group of relievers in the league (9.64 walks per nine innings). But against the Pirates, the roles were flipped.

In the fifth inning, Pittsburgh brought in reliever Nik Turley for Williams. Left-handed Turley walked Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras to load the bases – Williams had walked Bryant earlier in the inning. Then, Jason Heyward stepped up to the left side of the plate with two outs.

All Heyward had to do was poke a hard ground ball into right field, and two runs scored. The Cubs took a comfortable 4-0 lead.

After further review

A replay review helped nullify a leadoff walk for the Cubs.

Darvish walked the first batter he faced, Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier.

Then, Darvish tried to pick off Frazier at first, but he was called safe after diving back to the bag. The replay, on the other hand, showed first baseman Anthony Rizzo putting down the tag before Frazier touched the base.

The reversal marked the Cubs’ first successful challenge of the season. They also challenged a steal in the first game of their series at Cincinnati. But after a ninth-inning review, the call was upheld and Josh VanMeter was safe at second base.

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