It has been nearly a year and a half since the Chicago Cubs inked right-handed starting pitcher Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million contract in February of 2018. Since that date, the Cubs have received a total of 72.2 innings from their prized off-season addition prior to his outing on Thursday evening.
Across those frames with his new club, Darvish has posted a 5.33 ERA in just 15 starts, a number that was hampered last season as the veteran dealt with elbow issues. Perhaps those problems with his right elbow can explain Darvish’s lofty 4.95 ERA across just 40 innings in 2018. Making just eight starts before hitting the IL one season ago, Darvish allowed seven home runs and issued 21 walks, but struck out 49 batters, posting an 11.0 SO/9 rate during his first season in Chicago.
Always known for his ability to rack up an insane amount of strikeouts, the right-hander has been able to couple that with a relatively low walk rate. For his career, Darvish is below 10 percent in that department as he sat below eight percent in the two seasons prior to joining the Cubs.
Since making the transition, however, Darvish has seen walk rate sky-rocket. During his abbreviated campaign last year, the veteran walked 11.7 percent of the batters he faced, a number that was easily the highest of his career. Luckily, he maintained his swing-and-miss stuff, posting a swinging strike rate of 11.1 percent in 2018. While that number was below his career average, it was still better than league average, a positive sign considering Darvish was battling injuries one season ago.
This season, Darvish broke camp as close to 100 percent as someone can be while dealing with a blister issue toward the end of Spring Training. Nevertheless, Darvish and many people surrounding the organization, claimed the right-hander was healthy and because of that, was showing off his best stuff in Arizona.
Unfortunately, it took the Cubs just one game to realize that getting Darvish back to his All-Star-caliber levels would require much more work. Breaking camp, Darvish slotted into the Cubs’ rotation as the number two starter, confirming he would open his season in Texas against the Rangers.
Whether it was nerves about being back in Texas (where he started his career), or something else, Darvish turned in one of the weirdest starts of his career. Across 2.2 innings, the right-hander yielded only two hits and three earned runs, but he issued seven walks and allowed only five balls to be put into play. What resulted was a 75-pitch outing that lasted less than three innings, a telling sign as to how the rest of the season might go for Darvish.
Over the course of Darvish’s seven starts prior to Thursday’s, the right-hander has shown flashes of being the pitcher who finished second in the American League Cy Young voting back in 2013. On April 27, Darvish yielded two hits over six innings, allowing only a solo home run while striking out eight batters in a 9-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
While Darvish lowered his ERA by almost a full run, he issued four free passes, helping him close the month of April with 15 walks over 26 innings.
Despite the positive signs in Darvish’s outing against Arizona, the right-hander fell right back into his old ways in his very next outing. Over four innings on May 4, Darvish walked five St. Louis Cardinal batters, needing 81 pitches to complete four innings of work. That lackluster start moved his ERA back to 5.79 for the season and guaranteed Darvish would fall short of the innings needed to be among the qualified starters across baseball.
Entering play on Thursday, Darvish would need 7.1 frames to match his 40 innings across eight starts last season, meaning he would still only be averaging five innings per start. For a pitcher of Darvish’s caliber and salary, that is unacceptable.
Darvish, however, would fall short of the tally needed to get to that plateau, instead reverting back to his wild ways against the Miami Marlins.
Prior to first pitch, the right-hander was sporting a 17.8 percent walk rate, a number that leads all major league starters (minimum 30 innings). Not only does that mark lead the majors, but it does so by three percentage points, while his BB/9 rate is more than 1.4 walks higher than the second highest member on that list.
Worse than that, Darvish also entered play sporting the ninth highest HR/9 rate among starters with a minimum of 30 innings. The mark which sits at 2.20 has been on the rise since 2014, but has exploded since joining the Cubs, shooting up from 1.30 in 2017 to where it sits now. Because of that, and a decrease in fly balls allowed by Darvish, the right-hander’s HR/FB rate is clocking in at 33.3 percent prior to Thursday. That means 1/3 of fly balls allowed by Darvish this season have resulted in home runs.
A combination of walking too many batters and allowing too many home runs often does not bode well for a pitcher, no matter how good their “stuff” is. Early on this season, we are seeing that with Darvish, Currently, opposing batters are hitting just .238 off the right-hander, but with one of the lowest K%-BB% rates in the majors (6.6 percent), his FIP is a lofty 6.81.
Coming into his eighth start of the season on Thursday, Darvish had yet to allow more than six hits in an outing. Nevertheless, his issues with the free pass often backs him into a corner, such a corner where only one base knock or home run can plate two or three runs. In addition, it drives up Darvish’s pitch count, ensuring the veteran cannot go deeper than four or five innings.
Before every start, there is hope among the fan base that something will finally click for Darvish and he will begin to figure things out. The problem, thus far, has not been his “stuff”. So far, the movement on all of Darvish’s pitches have looked good, sometimes too good. At times, even when he makes his pitch, hitters are not offering at them because Darvish has built a reputation for being wild.
On Thursday, it seemed that Darvish fell victim to that once again, but it was clear the right-hander did not have command of many of his pitches. Just about the only thing that was working for Darvish was his cut-fastball and slider, while both his four- and two-seam fastballs lacked any type of command.
Early in the first inning against a lowly Marlins club, Darvish employed six cutters and two sliders, adding seven four-seam fastballs to the mix. Darvish’s cutter, however, proved to be the best pitch in his arsenal on Thursday, something we saw in the first frame. In that inning, Darvish garnered three swinging strikes on six total offerings, adding one called strike on the cutter.
Due to the effectiveness of the cutter, Darvish fanned two Marlin hitters, inducing a fly ball out to make-up the visiting club’s half of the first.
The second inning unfolded in a similar manner as the veteran racked up his third and fourth strikeouts of the game, helping him strand a lead-off walk at second base. Through the first two frames, Darvish had limited the Marlins to just two balls in play (fly out and a ground out), while amassing four strikeouts versus only one free pass.
In the third, unfortunately, things started to slide sideways on Darvish. A strikeout of the opposing pitcher was surrounded by two walks, a figure that would move to three to load the bases with two outs in the frame. As the inning continued to unfold, it started to become clear that Darvish’s outing would be cut short due to his pitch count.
Still without a hit in the ballgame, the Marlins were staring at a bases loaded situation in the third inning and Neil Walker due. After working the count full, Darvish and catcher Taylor Davis went back to the right-hander’s best pitch on the evening. That was the cutter, as they were able to sit Walker down swinging with the pitch to strand all three runners on base.
Perhaps his best pitch of the day, Darvish’s cutter preserved a 2-0 Cubs lead through the first third of the contest on Thursday.
While the Marlins had featured base runners galore in the early going, they still found themselves without a hit with two outs in the fourth inning. At this point, it was clear Darvish would not be able to complete the game, but Joe Maddon was still looking for length out of his starter.
Length he would not get, however, as the right-hander labored through the fourth inning. A one out walk and stolen base sat up an RBI single from the Marlins’ eight-hole hitter, a knock that cut the Cubs’ lead in half at 2-1. Luckily, though, Darvish retired Miami’s lead-off hitter after a walk of the pitcher, moving his total to six on the evening.
At 97 pitches, Maddon had little choice to pull Darvish as his spot in the order was due in the bottom half of the inning. All told, Darvish threw 31 cutters and 15 sliders, meaning those offering’s made up just over 47 percent of his pitches on Thursday.
On the day, Darvish garnered only nine swinging strikes, adding in 16 called strikes. Of those nine swinging strikes, seven came on either the cutter or slider, while Darvish added nine called strikes with those offerings.
Now through eight starts this season, Darvish has racked up just 36.2 innings, as he has averaged just 4.5 innings per outing at this point in the season.
Darvish’s final line looked like this: four innings, one hit, one earned run, six walks and seven strikeouts on the aforementioned 97 pitches. To speak to Darvish’s wildness on Thursday, the right-hander amassed just 50 strikes on the evening, leaving the remaining 47 to be called balls.
As has been the case for much of the season, the Cubs’ offense was able to erase a lackluster outing by their starting pitching. Touched on above, the Cubs plated two runs in the first inning. Just a handful of pitches into the ballgame, Kris Bryant took Marlins starting pitcher Trevor Richards deep for his seventh of the season.
Picking on a first-pitch fastball, Bryant sent the 92 MPH offering from the right-hander 416-feet to left field. Off the bat at 110.2 MPH and with a launch angle of 26 degrees, Bryant’s long ball in the first resulted in a .990 xBA and a 1-0 lead for the Cubs.
An RBI single by Albert Almora extended the Cubs’ advantage to 2-0 in the first frame, helping to guarantee that at least one first inning run would be scored by either club over this four-game series.
While Darvish was wild for most of his short outing, the right-hander allowed just the two out single in the fourth inning. That RBI single would prove to be the only run the Marlins scored on Thursday, even as the Cubs added on in the home half of the fifth inning.
The Cubs’ lead, which was only one run heading into the fifth, was stretched thanks to both halves of “Bryzzo.” With one out in the frame, Bryant reached base via the free pass, giving the Cubs a base runner only minutes before Rizzo launched a ball into left-center field.
Rizzo’s two-run home run in the fifth inning not only represented his 10th of the season, but it gave the slugger exactly 200 long balls as a member of the Cubs and 201 for his career. In addition, his 422-foot blast extended the Cubs’ advantage to 4-1 on Thursday, a score they would eventually win by, thanks to Mike Montgomery.
Recently activated from the IL to take over Pedro Strop‘s spot on the roster, Montgomery followed Darvish’s four innings with five sparkling ones of his own. While Darvish allowed one run on one hit over the first four frames, Montgomery yielded three hits, but did not allow a tally as he needed just 71 pitches to work the remaining frames in relief.
Thanks to just enough offense from Bryant and Rizzo and Montgomery’s long-relief outing, the Cubs were able to defeat the Marlins on Thursday by a score of 4-1.
With the win, the Cubs move to 22-13 while the Marlins drop to 10-27 on the season.
Next Up for the Cubs
The Cubs will begin a three-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday at 1:20 pm at Wrigley Field. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be left-hander Jose Quintana (4-1, 3.40 ERA). In his last outing, a 13-5 rout of the St. Louis Cardinals on May 5, Quintana limited the visiting club to two earned runs on eight hits over six innings of work. Additionally, the southpaw garnered just two strikeouts, but induced 10 ground balls and 12 fly balls with his 103 pitches.
With two walks in his last start, Quintana has issued just four free passes over his four starts spanning 25.2 frames. Over that same time frame, the left-hander has struck out 18 batters and yielded seven earned runs.
Opposing Quintana on the mound Friday will be fellow left-hander Gio Gonzalez (0-0, 2.61 ERA). The 33-year-old Gonzalez has made two starts for the Brewers since signing with the club in late-April. Over 10.1 innings, the southpaw has allowed three earned runs on nine hits while issuing just one free pass while striking out nine batters.
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