Yu Darvish made only eight starts for the Cubs in 2018, the last of which came in late May in Cincinnati. The pitcher referred to by Theo Epstein as “the pre-eminent strikeout pitcher of our generation” struggled with recurring pain caused by a stress reaction in his elbow, which wasn’t diagnosed until after his second rehabilitation attempt just weeks before the season ended. Darvish underwent arthroscopic surgery in September to clean up the joint and and has been rehabbing throughout the offseason.
Darvish started throwing for the first time on December 18, according to his posts on Instagram.
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His next rehab milestone will be throwing off a mound next Friday. You better believe I’ll be a little anxious to hear how his bullpen session goes. Darvish, though, seems confident about his rehab process and is throwing without any discomfort.
“I don’t feel any pain,” Darvish told media folks at the Cubs Convention. “I feel strong. I’m throwing from 120 feet now.
“Now I know the teammates, and I have more confidence than last year,” Darvish, said. “I hope I have a good spring training.”
I’m pulling hard for Darvish to own everyone this upcoming season because I think he was treated so unfairly by many fans and even some people who cover baseball. For example, after Darvish struggled in a late April start, ESPN Chicago said, “When [Darvish] loses games because of mental breakdowns, despite having good stuff, it only highlights those contests where his stuff is below average.”
I highlighted that particular phrase above because to assume mental weakness was the cause of Darvish’s performance is unfair and misleading. Though no one knew it at the time, Darvish would only start a few more games because of an arm injury that some didn’t believe was very serious. If you recall, a similar issue sidelined Brandon Morrow for the second half and led to a surgery for him as well.
And though it’s true the transition to a new team can make for some difficult psychological adjustments, it was pretty clear there was a root physical cause. We pointed out here at Cubs Insider that Darvish’s release point was gradually getting lower just before he left with unbearable elbow pain in May.
We must also consider the language barrier, which can often lead to the loss of nuance or simple misunderstandings. There were times when his comments were unfortunately taken out of context to capitalize on a false narrative, as Theo Epstein told 670 The Score last July.
“I also think there’s a little bit of a language issue [in regards to Darvish] where things don’t always come across in the way they’re translated.”
All the unfair media coverage and misinterpreted quotes led some to believe Darvish was actually faking his injury, too. The entire situation is really disheartening.
So among all the narratives going into 2019, I’m probably most intrigued by how Darvish is able to perform over a full season. I’m also a little anxious about his health. If he and Kris Bryant are both healthy, forget major free agent pick-ups. The Cubs would be essentially getting back two of the game’s best players at their respective positions. Let’s go.