Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish are supposed to be two key pieces in the Chicago Cubs rotation. Instead, they’ve emerged as major question marks early in 2019.
The Chicago Cubs have rebounded nicely after a disastrous start to the season, entering Tuesday’s matchup with the Seattle Mariners just three games behind the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals. They’ve done so, however, without much in the form of contributions from two of their most prominent hurlers.
One of those guys, Yu Darvish, entered the year as a relative question mark. He made just eight starts in the first season of a six-year, $126 million contract. After going down with an injury in May, he never took the mound again, leaving a hole in the Chicago rotation. That hole, of course, set a series of moves in motion, most notably, the Cubs trading for veteran left-hander Cole Hamels and picking up his $20 million option this winter.
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This year, it’s been a very mixed bag for Darvish. It’s hard to know the best way to evaluate success for the right-hander. Is it health? Or is it results? That’s for you to decide. But on the latter, it’s been a decidedly disappointing start to the season.
The good news? Darvish no longer leads baseball in walks. He’s second, trailing only Brad Keller of the Kansas City Royals, who has totaled 23 walks in 13 1/3 more innings than the Chicago righty (Darvish has issued 22 free passes in just 28 2/3 frames).
It’s not that he’s allowing a lot of contact. Opponents are hitting just .225 against Darvish this season, but he carries a bloated 1.57 WHIP due to his staggering 16.9 percent walk rate – which would be the highest of his career.
We’ve seen flashes of dominance from the Japanese-born hurler this year. His last time out, he struck out eight in six innings of work, holding Arizona to one run to earn his second victory of the year. But control issues plagued him again, as he walked four on the night.
The health and velocity have been encouraging to see from Darvish. But the Cubs need consistency, something he’s failed to deliver since joining the team last year. Could a stint in the bullpen help him get right? Perhaps. But, simply put, there’s a big difference between delegating someone like Tyler Chatwood to the pen and someone like Darvish, who’s on a nine-figure deal.
Speaking of guys on long-term deals, soft-tossing right-hander Kyle Hendricks isn’t off to the start Chicago hoped for when they extended him this spring. MLB.com broke down his struggles of late in a recent piece:
"In his entire career, Hendricks has allowed 10 hits or more four times, and two of them have come in his first five starts of 2019. (He didn’t do it at all in ’16 or ’17, and just once in ’18.)"
Needless to say, this is a problem. Hendricks relies on soft contact given his lack of velocity and when guys are squaring him up, things go south in a hurry. Right-handed hitters are squaring him up to the tune of a .364 average this season – with lefties coming in at a near-equally potent .315 clip.
He’s really struggled away from the Friendly Confines, pitching to an 8.78 ERA on the road. He’s allowed a staggering 28 base hits and 18 runs in just 13 1/3 innings of work in his road starts. Clearly, this can’t continue if he wants to gain any type of rhythm down the stretch.
It’s hard to envision Hendricks pitching this inconsistently over the course of an entire season. After all, we’re just one month into the campaign. But he’ll have to get right to solidify the Chicago Cubs rotation as the team enters a critical stretch filled with key matchups against division foes.