CHICAGO -- If the Cubs could put Yu Darvish’s performance from Friday in a bottle labeled “Yu’s Secret Stuff” a la the film "Space Jam," they would.
Darvish’s “stuff” played a huge role in both his and the Cubs’ success in Friday afternoon’s 4-3 victory over the Pirates at Wrigley Field.
“Anytime, anywhere, I’ll take that,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s getting real comfortable in his Chicago Cubs skin right now. He’s just a different cat.”
It’s never been a matter of if Darvish had the stuff to be dominant, but when he’d return to that dominance he captivated the baseball world with over his first five seasons.
The 32-year-old opened his second half in a big way as he dominated the Pirates’ lineup over his six scoreless innings and easily had his best start as a Cub, looking like every bit of the man Chicago thought it was getting when it signed him to a six-year, $126 million deal before the 2018 season.
“Last year, I didn't do anything, so I want to pitch a lot of games this year,” Darvish said. “First game after the break is tough for everybody. I told [Joe] I can do it."
He retired the first 13 batters he faced before allowing the Pirates' first hit of the game in the fifth inning and started 13 of the 21 batters he faced with first-pitch strikes.
Darvish’s mystery bag of pitches has always been his claim to fame and while that unique mix of pitches has made him elite in the past, being able to throw all of them for strikes has been a challenge. He walked just one batter in the game, and after walking 33 batters over his first eight starts in 2019, he’s cut that in half walking just 14 in his past eight outings.
“So last year, I had the elbow issue and I was doing rehab for eight weeks. Most of the time, I’d feel the pain with the fastball,” he said. I would try to feel less pain with a different arm slot. That’s why this year, the first eight weeks I had a weird feeling for the fastball. I don’t have any pain in the elbow, but I think my brain remembered that.”
Darvish missed bats with all six pitches in his start on Friday inducing 14 swings-and-misses on the fastball, cutter, changeup, curveball, slider and his splitter. The splitter, which he hadn’t thrown much in recent starts was a late addition to his repertoire.
“He wanted the splitter back out. He felt good about it,” Maddon said. “It was outstanding to go with the cutter, slider and then he would change speeds off that to give it a bigger break.”
“Yeah, it worked well,” Darvish said. “But when I threw it against lefties, they didn’t chase. So I went to the changeup after the third inning and that worked well.”
The Cubs right-hander finished the game going six innings allowing two hits en route to his 13th no-decision of the season, which is the most in MLB among non-openers.
Darvish’s kicking off the second half like he did Friday could mean a lot for Chicago in the coming weeks. Going into what is going to be a tight division race in the National League Central, the Cubs are going to need all hands on deck if they hope to win the division.
“Want to get him the win, but either way, it’s huge to not waste a start like that,” said Jason Heyward, who had the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning. “It’s good to see him throw the ball with confidence.”