Already a very big draw for a low-A ballclub, the South Bend Cubs had a little extra cachet Monday night when Yu Darvish took the bump for a rehab start. The target going into his first live action was four innings and no more than 75 pitches and the big righty exceed his own expectations by needing only 57 pitches to complete five frames.
It wasn’t just the fans who were out in full force for Darvish’s start, either. With the Cubs out in LA for four days, some of the big-time beat writers made the much shorter trip to north-central Indiana to provide some real-time updates and post-start comments.
Darvish strikes out the last batter of the fourth with a 62-mph curve… pic.twitter.com/mmFE3jA2vx
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) June 25, 2018
Darvish with 57 pitches thru 5 IP, only allowed 3 hits and 1 ER. 5 Ks, 0 BBs.
Threw 41 of 57 pitches for strikes.
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) June 26, 2018
Darvish was throwing against guys who are about a decade younger on average and haven’t seen anything like the stuff he can unleash, but his mastery of the strike zone was nice to see. Then again, it was kind of like a spring training start that’s all about getting in work. Striking out the side in the 2nd inning was a highlight, as was needing only 5 pitches — all strikes — to close out the 1st.
According to The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma, Darvish was touching 94 with the fastball and generally sat around 90. Writers in attendance had assumed that the low-90’s pitches were cutters, but Darvish confirmed that they were indeed four-seamers. Then there’s that eephus-level curve, which was certainly not fun for the poor hitter.
Everything was working smoothly for Darvish, who did admit to being a little gassed by the end of his outing.
Darvish felt he could have done better, but rated the start a “12 out of 10” because he was able to reach the top end of his innings limit. He and the Cubs will have to wait and see how things react over the next couple days, but there was no immediate discomfort in that right arm.
“Not necessarily pain,” Darvish told reporters. “But I can’t for sure say there’s nothing going on in the triceps. It’s not like anything bad. I feel like everyone who comes off the DL goes through this.”
Much has been made about Darvish’s mental toughness and confidence, the latter of which might be understandably shaken by inconsistent performance and two trips to the DL. Then there’s the whole thing about pressure both internal and external from the big contract and new team, something the pitcher addressed Monday.
“It’s day by day,” he said (Sharma Twitter link here). “It differs. I had some anxiety coming into this game as I did with the Sim game. So in that sense it’s the same. But hopefully I can build my confidence going forward.”
Darvish deflected questions about when he’d return to the big club, putting that in the hands of the front office, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take one more turn in South Bend. With both his triceps and his confidence somewhat in question, another go of it against overmatched opponents could provide a nice springboard.
On the other hand, being pain-free in the aftermath of this start could see him back in the Cubs’ rotation when the Twins come to Chicago this weekend. But with Tyler Chatwood back from paternity leave and Duane Underwood Jr. setting the rest of the rotation up for at least regular rest moving forward, the Cubs could afford to give Darvish extra time.
Because they’ve got off-days between a short holiday series with Detroit, another start in South Bend would mean Darvish getting five days off before facing the Reds at Wrigley on July 6. Of course, that doesn’t seem like quite as soft a landing after the skivvy-soiling we witnessed in Cincinnati this past weekend.
We should know more about what the immediate future holds for Darvish here in the next few days, but the initial returns on his rehab start have been excellent all the way around.