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Darvish's gem spoiled as Reds walk off in extras

Right-hander strikes out 11 with no walks in 5 1/3 innings
@MLBastian
May 15, 2019

CINCINNATI -- As Yu Darvish walked off the field at Great American Ball Park on Wednesday night, a collection of Cubs fans sitting behind the visitors’ dugout offered the pitcher a loud standing ovation. He had, after all, turned in arguably his best performance since signing with Chicago. Darvish struck

CINCINNATI -- As Yu Darvish walked off the field at Great American Ball Park on Wednesday night, a collection of Cubs fans sitting behind the visitors’ dugout offered the pitcher a loud standing ovation. He had, after all, turned in arguably his best performance since signing with Chicago.

Darvish struck out 11. He issued zero walks. He frustrated Joey Votto with a pair of called strikeouts -- at-bats that included the Reds' cerebral hitter jawing a little with the home-plate umpire. It was the kind of performance Chicago fans have been waiting to see from Darvish, even if it had to come within a 6-5 walk-off loss in 10 innings. In many ways, this was a victory in the larger picture.

Box score

"I'm taking this as a win," Cubs catcher Taylor Davis said. "A win for the Cubs and a win for Yu. Obviously, on the field, we got walked off, but as far as the start goes, it was awesome."

During his time with the National League Central-leading Cubs, Davis has found a home as Darvish's personal catcher while filling in for injured backup Victor Caratini. Over the past few turns, Davis and Darvish have worked on a variety of goals in an effort to help the pitcher overcome the command woes that have defined his season to date. Against the Reds, Darvish identified a pitch mix and mound rhythm that worked.

Darvish leaned heavily on his cutter (38 out of 102 pitches) and balanced that with his four-seamer (32) and slider (16) as his secondary weapons. Just two starts ago, Darvish featured his sinker 51 times against the Cardinals. On Wednesday, the right-hander mixed that offering on just eight occasions. One of those was a 97-mph sinker that ran into the upper part of the strike zone in the fifth for Votto's second strikeout of the night.

"If he struggled," Darvish said, "that means I'm good."

The goal of the sinker use against St. Louis was to gain confidence in the pitch for those outings in which the four-seam command is absent. Consider that box checked. The return to more cutters and sliders is Darvish admitting that, as important as it is for him to establish his fastball, the pitches with break are his real strength. That was a point made by Cubs manager Joe Maddon earlier this week.

"What we've seen in the past [is] that he actually does command the cutter, slider better," Maddon said in the wake of Darvish's previous start against the Marlins. "There's nothing wrong with throwing more of those. There's not a thing wrong with that."

Partially due to the pregame plan, but then also due to seeing how his pitches were working in the early innings, Darvish followed that road map against the Reds.

"It wasn't from my advice to him," Maddon said. "That was just all him, feeding off what he felt today."

Davis added that in-game adjusting is critical for Darvish.

"With him having so many pitches," Davis said, "you've just got to figure out, 'What is the best thing to use that day?'"

Darvish admitted that the various approaches show that he has been searching for the right combination.

"I'm still trying to find my way," he said. "I think my ability is not a fastball and sinker. My ability is slider and cutter."

Darvish's night was not without its flaws.

The Reds struck for one run on a Eugenio Suarez double in the first inning, and Jose Iglesias added an RBI double in the fourth. That was a bit of foreshadowing, as Suarez and Iglesias each homered later in the night against Chicago's bullpen, forcing Darvish to walk away with a no-decision and setting the stage for Cincinnati's walk-off win. Over 5 1/3 innings, though, Darvish was effective and he was in line for the win when he exited to the ovation.

It marked the first time since Aug. 1, 2013, that Darvish had at least 11 strikeouts with no walks allowed in an outing. No Cubs pitcher had achieved that feat since lefty Jose Quintana did so in his Chicago debut on July 16, 2017.

Prior to Tuesday's game, Maddon expressed his firm belief that a "seminal moment" was coming for Darvish.

"The guy's too good. He's too good," Maddon said. "So there's going to be that moment -- that epiphany, mental epiphany, whatever you want to call it -- it's going to happen. And then he's going to take off. And then you're going to see this incredible run that he's going to get on. I'm not just saying that. I really believe that."

Darvish was asked if Wednesday's outing may have been that moment.

"I hope so, yeah," Darvish said. "But, I think I really need a very good start in Wrigley. That's what I want."

If Darvish is going to get a standing ovation from the Wrigley Field faithful in his next start Monday, it will likely come opposite Phillies pitcher and former Cubs ace Jake Arrieta. Cubs fans often link the two right-handers together, given that Darvish signed a lucrative deal with the team before last season, while Arrieta signed with Philadelphia.

Darvish was asked if he feels he needs to show something to fans in that assignment.

"If I try to show something, I always go bad," Darvish said. "So I just want to be myself. He's a legend in Chicago, for sure, so I respect that. I'm really looking forward to facing him.”

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.