Darvish on playing: 'It was a tough decision'
CHICAGO -- The decision to participate in this abbreviated season amid the coronavirus pandemic was not an easy one for Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish. He has young children at home and made his concerns over the virus known even before baseball hit pause in March.
On Sunday afternoon, Darvish took a seat in front of the camera in the Cubs' Zoom room, wearing a mask, and expressed that those worries are still present in his mind. The pitcher is here, though. He decided to join his teammates, who also have families and share the daily stress of trying to make the 2020 season happen as safely as possible.
And so far, Darvish has been relieved to see how serious those teammates are treating the situation.
"Definitely," said Darvish, who used a translator. "I came here to make sure everybody was doing the right thing. And then I had it in my mind that, if they're not, I was ready to go home."
Darvish came down with a cough in early March and was worried enough back on March 5 that he skipped a Cactus League start, stayed away from the Cubs' complex and headed to a doctor's office. One day later, when he was cleared to return, Darvish said he wanted to be sure he did not have coronavirus.
Darvish did not have COVID-19, but the number of cases around the United States continued to climb in the following days, leading to Major League Baseball suspending Spring Training one week after that doctor's visit. As cases have risen again around the country, Darvish was asked if he was leaving the possibility of electing not to play open.
"Well, maybe," Darvish said. "But at this point, no. I don't think so."
When the initial Spring Training ended, Cubs manager David Ross had narrowed his choice for the Opening Day starter down to Darvish or Kyle Hendricks. Now, following a three-month hiatus and with two weeks remaining in Summer Camp, that looks to still be the scenario for the July 24 opener against the Brewers.
The question for Chicago is: which Darvish will they get in a 60-game season?
Last year, Darvish posted a 4.88 ERA with 78 strikeouts, 44 walks and a .775 opponents' OPS in 66 1/3 innings in the Cubs' first 60 games. But, the right-hander turned an incredible corner in the second half, posting a 2.76 ERA with 118 strikeouts against only seven walks in 81 2/3 innings. In Chicago's last 60 games, he had a 2.97 ERA with 97 strikeouts, five walks and a .651 opponents' OPS in 63 2/3 innings.
"He's extremely important," Ross said. "The way he finished the season last year and how good he was for us, that's the guy we're counting on. He's been around a long time now. He's a veteran. He's a veteran presence out there on the mound. He can do so much with the baseball."
Darvish said he stayed on a regular routine over the past three months, when he also developed an extra pitch, which he nicknamed "The Supreme" in a Twitter post. Ross said the righty has seemed to thrive with the freedom to expand his repertoire in order to better execute scouting reports.
"You don't want to put too many limitations on great athletes," Ross said.
Darvish echoed Ross, noting that his goal in this shortened season is to do his best to replicate what he found down the stretch last year.
Above everything else, though, Darvish wants to see this season proceed safely. To date, the Cubs have had no positive COVID-19 test results among their player group. Many of the players have worn masks on the field, and have adhered to the mask and social-distancing protocols behind the scenes.
While Darvish's mind is not completely at ease, seeing those things, combined with the complete buy-in by the players to participate, have helped his decision to be there for the Cubs and the rotation this year.
"It was a tough decision, but everyone's doing it," Darvish said. "All the teammates have families. Everybody has concerns, but everybody decided to play. So, it makes it a little bit easier for me to make the decision to play."