Darvish, Lester make case to start Opening Day

March 7th, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- One day after created a bit of a scare by tweeting while waiting to see a doctor, it turned out to be more of a false alarm than anything else. The Cubs pitcher just wanted to be sure he was not in the clubhouse if he had something contagious.

"That was nice of him," Cubs starter said with a chuckle.

On Friday morning, Darvish was back in camp with the Cubs -- still with a slight cough, but no other issues -- and feeling well enough to pitch in a simulated game at Sloan Park. Two hours later, Lester took the same hill for the Cubs in a 6-3 Cactus League loss against a White Sox lineup that could resemble their Opening Day nine.

With both Darvish and Lester getting their work in on Friday, Cubs manager David Ross could still name either his Opening Day starter for March 26 in Milwaukee. Righty would also be a contender. Ross smiled when asked if there were two Opening Day candidates taking the mound on Friday.

"There's two pitchers going," Ross replied, careful not to tip his hand.

Darvish's day vs. Cubs
There was one thing that Darvish said got lost in translation in his series of tweets. He clarified that he never was in a hospital, but rather at a doctor's office. Darvish explained that the word for "hospital" is used for most medical visits in his native Japan.

"So, that's not a big thing," said Darvish, who noted that he sometimes has an allergic reaction to household dust.

With that ordeal behind him, Darvish worked three innings against a group of Cubs hitters. The fans filing in early expecting to only watch Lester's outing received a bonus performance from Darvish. The right-hander piled up 47 pitches (31 strikes), ending with nine swinging strikes, six strikeouts and one walk.

Darvish was mixing in an array of fastballs and breaking pitches, with his lone misstep being a heater that launched to the grass in left-center field for a homer. In the second "inning" of work, the Cubs put a runner on second twice for Darvish and had him record four outs to get the pitch count up.

"Every time I pitch live BP or a sim game, it feels weird," Darvish said. "No sound. So, that's why it's hard to get into the game. No adrenaline. But, I felt good today. Fastball was coming out good. Breaking ball was good. Command was a little off, but good enough."

More important, Darvish was feeling much improved.

"I know, personally, how that sickness can wipe you out," said Ross, who missed the Cubs' first three games of the spring due to illness.

Lester's day vs. White Sox
While Darvish spoke with reporters on the back patio of the Cubs' complex Friday morning, Lester strolled out of the building to begin prepping for his start. He was slated to face a strong cast of hitters from the South Side.

Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson, José Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación, Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert occupied the first seven slots of the White Sox order, respectively. While that could give Lester feedback via swings or takes, the veteran pointed out that Spring Training outings do not include scouting reports.

"When you're younger, you don't care so much about scouting reports," Lester said. "I know it's Spring Training. I know we always say we don't care about the results. But, at the end of the day, I don't want to give up hits or runs. And a guy like me right now, I need that information."

Sans the advance work done during the season by Cubs coaches and analysts, Lester went through 61 pitches (39 strikes) in 2 2/3 innings. The left-hander struck out six, walked two and gave up one run on four hits. Lester was mostly pleased with the soft contact he induced -- with the exception being an RBI double by Robert that split the right-center gap.

Lester focused on his cutter, fired more changeups than he might normally in a regular-season outing and said the area in need of adjustment is creating more early-count contact.

"I felt like there was some good pitches that I made that were fouled off," Lester said, "as opposed to kind of put in play. And then I kind of had to battle from there. ... I would've liked getting the ball in play a little bit more early in those at-bats, as opposed to four or five pitches in."

Right now, all Ross is concerned with -- beyond picking his Opening Day starter -- is having his rotation leaders getting their work in without disruption.

"I don't think I put a whole lot of stock into Spring Training stats," Ross reminded. "This is a process that starts now that goes throughout the season of trying to adjust and get better."