Joe Maddon was bullish on Yu Darvish when he joined the Bernstein and McKnight Show ahead of Tuesday’s game in Atlanta. Which, I mean, of course he was. It’s not as if dude’s gonna hop on the air and be like, “Man, we’re just hoping our $126 million pitcher doesn’t crap the bed again since he’s playing the Not Milwaukee Brewers.”
But the thing about Maddon’s appearance that came back to bit him in the ass later that evening was the specificity of his statements about his pitcher’s readiness. In advocating for Darvish’s mental and physical toughness, Maddon may have actually set the stage for further questions about those very topics.
“[The DL stint] has nothing to do with a person’s character or makeup,” Maddon explained. It helps the team stay strong while somebody’s getting well. That’s it. It’s not like he’s out of shape physically or arm-strength-wise.
“He pitches well, he’s going to get his 100, 110 pitches if that’s what it takes. Looking forward to him really starting to nail this down.”
And nail it down, Darvish did…for 61 whole pitches of one-run ball. It was easily the best Darvish had looked against a team other than the Brewers and he was displaying some absolutely filthy stuff against one of the NL’s best offensive teams. His breaking stuff looked about as good as his has all season, just ask Freddie Freeman.
Not even Freddie Freeman can handle Yu Darvish's unreal slider.
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) May 16, 2018
Thing is, time off doesn’t necessarily mean returning to full health. And when you’re talking about an illness that saps your strength and leaves you unable to train or eat properly, getting back to full activity isn’t always easy. So when Darvish told trainers that he was experiencing a little cramping in his right calf, Maddon erred on the side of caution.
“It was really important that I go out there and throw the 5th inning,” Darvish told reporters after the game. “I was expecting to go out there. I wanted to let Joe know of my calf just in case.
“I thought I was 100 percent coming in. Once I started pitching, I wasn’t 100 percent. Next four days I’ll eat a lot, train a lot and become 100 percent again.”
Some see this as Darvish being high maintenance or not being able to play through it or tough it out or whatever, but that’s simply not the case. Well, I can’t say definitively that the guy’s not a prima donna. I don’t think he is just based on what I’ve heard, so take that for what it’s worth.
Where I take issue is with those who believe a “real man” or a “true pro” or whatever would have kept his mouth shut and gone back out there. Some may figure that’s what Darvish should be doing to earn that paycheck. Sure, if he’s truly healthy. But pitching at less than full strength is a good way to a) exacerbate the issue, and b) hurt the team by not being able to execute properly.
If given the choice between pulling a guy early/sitting him longer or trying to have him play through an issue, I’m taking the former options every time. Remember Ben Zobrist’s wrist issue last season, when the Cubs had him try to play through it for a while and didn’t DL him for several days? That was fun.
“I was expecting him to go back out there,” Maddon admitted after the game. “The trainers came up to me and told me he felt cramping issues in the 4th. Yu wanted to go back out but I said ‘No, I don’t think that’s wise.’ Having been ill recently it just doesn’t make any sense.”
Boom, exactly. The cramping was in his right calf, which is kinda-sorta important for a right-handed pitcher. What if he had remained in the game only to see the leg seize up at a really inopportune time?
Rather than look at Tuesday’s early exit as the continuation of a trend, I view it as the start of a new one. Darvish looked sharp (I hope you’re not viewing this on a computer that blocks social media so you can see that slide-piece he wiffled in to Freeman) in putting up his third-best game score of the season — in his shortest outing, no less — and he should be fully recuperated by Sunday, which is presumably when he’ll make his next start. He’ll then have six days before taking the mound again in San Francisco, as the Cubs have a pair of off days next week.
Perhaps the illness and resultant time off afforded Darvish an opportunity to slow down and hit the reset button. We may never know for certain, but his next few starts should give us a better idea of what we can expect from him over the remainder of the season.