Yu Darvish threw two simulated innings of live batting practice Monday, putting him on track to take the mound for a multi-inning start when the Brewers come to Sloan Park this Saturday. He threw against Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward, working specifically on backdoor sliders and fastballs away as he seeks to improve his splits against lefty batters.
The .766 OPS Darvish allowed to left-handed hitters in 2019 was 148 points higher than what righties put up against him, a much more significant disparity than he’s traditionally had. That lefty production was also 56 points above his career average OPS against them, hence the focus of Monday’s session. He made the most of it, getting Schwarber swinging on a wicked breaking ball, and said afterwards that he enjoys opening the spring in simulated fashion.
“I like live BP,” Darvish told reporters. “I like this, how do you say it? [reporters offer suggestions off camera] Progression, yeah, progression. Next step is [the] game against Milwaukee, right? Saturday?”
Though some of that seemed entirely genuine, Darvish was almost certainly being a little coy when it came the date of his scheduled start. There was no almost about it when it came to his opponent, especially after Christian Yelich went after him on Twitter just because Darvish had the audacity to explain why he stepped off the mound during a game in Milwaukee.
Speaking of games in Milwaukee, the Cubs open the season against the Brewers in a little over a month and Darvish is the odds-on favorite to get the ball. Is that something David Ross has talked with him about?
“I don’t know,” Darvish joked. “I can’t talk about it. I don’t know what you’re saying.”
After the laughter died down, the righty admitted that he would like the opportunity to be the Cubs’ Opening Day starter. He’s had that honor in the past with the Rangers, but this would represent a significant step after missing nearly all of 2018 and then getting off to a rough start last season. It’s taken Darvish a while to get his bearings in Chicago and he has said he’s stronger for it, now it’s time to go out and prove it on the mound.
He’s already proven that he’s the team leader in roasting people online, so don’t bank on him dialing back the online persona anytime soon. Which is to say he’s going to remain logged on as he tweets through it.
“I feel people like it,” Darvish said. “That’s why I keep doing it.”
Kimbrel on first live session
Craig Kimbrel didn’t have the benefit of spring training last season and it really showed. Even though he went through a little — how to do say it? — progression in the minors last season, the stout closer wasn’t adequately prepared for the rigors of his role. Some of that may have been the result of going a little heavy in the weight room since he remained unemployed into early June.
In order to avoid a repeat, and because they need to get more looks at the fleet of pitchers vying to carry the game to the 9th inning, Kimbrel is being brought along slowly this spring. He threw BP with Darvish Monday and said he’ll have at least one more simulated outing before making an appearance in a live game. From there, the plan is for him pitch eight times over the remainder of the Cactus league slate.
“I still feel like I’ve got some things to work on and some direction things to stay more true with,” Kimbrel told reporters. “I mean, I threw some good pitches and I threw some pitches that I wasn’t happy with, but that’s part of getting out there and facing hitters. Getting a guy in the box, getting comfortable with them in the box.
“I guess you can throw as many bullpens as you want, but you wanna see guys’ swings, you wanna see how they stay in on pitches, and overall I felt like threw some good pitches today and got some things to work with.”
Well, there you have it. Just getting out there and throwing was good to see after David Ross and Tommy Hottovy offered repeated explanations as to why Kimbrel was working at his own pace. It was particularly concerning when Ross compared his closer’s schedule to that of Brandon Morrow, who was subsequently shut down for a few days.
If everything goes according to plan, Kimbrel could even throw another BP session later this week before appearing Saturday against the Brewers. Or maybe a game or two after that, we’ll just have to wait and see.