Darvish hopes sinker will help him get on track

May 5th, 2019

CHICAGO -- After departed Saturday's start in the fifth inning, following a pair of walks to open the frame, the pitcher headed down the dugout steps and spotted Javier Baez in the batting cage. Darvish went over to the shortstop and apologized for putting the team in a tough position to win.

"I felt so bad," Darvish said on Sunday. "They worked hard to come back. He said, 'Don't worry. I've got your back.'"

Baez then delivered a go-head home run in the eighth that proved to be the difference in a 6-5 comeback win for Chicago. In light of the end result, Darvish was able to take a deep breath and focus on process over results. Specifically, the right-hander walked away pleased with the progress he made with his two-seam sinker.

During his four-plus innings, Darvish featured his two-seamer 51 times out of 81 pitches. That represented the most sinkers thrown by the righty in any of his starts tracked by Statcast (since 2015). That heavy dose of sinkers (63 percent of his pitches against St. Louis) increased Darvish's season rate for the pitch to 14.7 percent from 7.2 percent.

"That was all him. He really wanted to throw it," Cubs catcher Taylor Davis said. "He felt like the two-seam was something he needed. So, I wanted to help him through that and the good thing is he went a whole game with throwing it. So, we're really going to have the sinker ready. And he may have thrown too many, but he threw the ball really good yesterday."

There was a method to the madness for Darvish.

Darvish currently has a career-worst walk rate of 17.8 percent and he attributes a lot of that to the inconsistent command of his four-seam fastball. The sporadic results with that fastball have led to him falling behind, making him more predictable and diminishing the amount of times Darvish can feature his put-away pitches.

"You can see the numbers. I'm still struggling with my four-seam to throw strikes," Darvish said. "Not even just on the corner -- just throw strikes. But, the sinker feels better. I can feel how I'm throwing the ball. The four-seam, sometimes I can't feel it."

To Darvish's point, here's a look at his strike percentage with the four-seamer over the past four years:

2019: 54.2
2018: 60.9
2017: 66.9
2016: 64.8

By throwing a surplus of sinkers against St. Louis, Darvish believes he can now move forward with more confidence in using that pitch to get strikes. Beyond that, he said he wants to have another option for the days he does not feel comfortable with the four-seamer. That way, he does not have to rely so much on his cutter and slider when that situation arises.

"The sinker was working. I just threw it too much," Darvish said. "I talked to [pitching coach Tommy Hottovy] about it after the game. Now I can find better spots to use it and then also I can face the hitters and know I'll have alternatives if one pitch isn't working that day."

Worth noting

• Entering Sunday, MLB hitters overall had a .142 average and .374 OPS in at-bats ending on an 0-2 count and a .161 average and .453 OPS after an 0-2 count. Baez was hitting .400 (6-for-15) with two homers and a 1.333 OPS in 15 at-bats ending on 0-2 and .370 (10-for-27) with four homers and a 1.319 OPS in 28 plate appearances after an 0-2 count.

"He's got a little bit of Vladimir [Guerrero] in him. Be careful. If he can reach it, it can still go far," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I'm sure it's going to regress at some point. It should. But, the guy's fearless. He's just absolutely fearless."

• Second baseman Daniel Descalso (left ankle soreness) was out of the lineup on Sunday, but Maddon was optimistic that the veteran could be available off the bench as a pinch-hitter. Descalso injured the ankle while rounding first base in the first inning of Saturday's win over the Cardinals.

• Backup catcher Victor Caratini, who is on the 10-day injured list following left hand (hamate bone) surgery, took on-field batting practice for the first time since the injury prior to Sunday's game. Caratini is roughly three weeks removed from the procedure and had already resumed fielding and throwing.

• Reliever Xavier Cedeno (10-day injured list, left wrist) logged 18 pitches (12 strikes) in one-third of an inning in a rehab appearance for Triple-A Iowa on Sunday. Cedeno is scheduled to pitch again for the Iowa Cubs on Monday.

• Left-hander Mike Montgomery (10-day injured list, left lat) threw a bullpen session at Wrigley Field on Sunday. His next step remains to be determined.