Chicago Cubs’ Yu Darvish took the mound on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field against the Reds and didn’t pitch phenomenally well, but he was able to take a bullet for his team and bullpen, an act that won’t soon be forgotten.
Yu Darvish struggled through a rough 2018 that saw unproductive pitching coupled with a season-ending injury. While it certainly was not wholly his fault, he took more than his fair share of the blame for a disappointing season in Chicago, one that ended without even getting to a playoff series. In 2019, while the results have been mixed, Darvish has been trending in the right direction and has at least looked good at times, leading to the idea that the Japanese right-hander might be ready for a string of good starts.
On the surface, Saturday afternoon’s performance doesn’t look like much to write home about, especially from a guy the Cubs gave $126 million to last offseason. 7 IP, 12H, 6ER, 2BB, 5K and a no-decision are hardly stats that make you jump out of your seat, ready to declare this guy the new ace of the staff. Heck, it might even make you drop him from your fantasy team- if you even had him in the first place.
However, there’s one number that I neglected to give you- 108. I’ll get to the importance of that in a second.
Heading into yesterday’s game, the 32-year-old righty had started 10 games for the Cubs so far in 2019 and had only thrown 48 innings. What that tells you is that he doesn’t work very far into games. Actually, to be frank, it says you he has been an enormous burden on the bullpen since he can’t even get into the 6th inning on average.
So, back to the number 108. What does it mean, and why is it important?
Well, it’s important because Jon Lester threw only four innings on Thursday and completely blew up an already beleaguered and undermanned bullpen. It’s a pen that’s been so patchwork and inconsistent that two new guys were shuttled in from Iowa again on Saturday to try and help keep the team afloat.
What the number means and what it’s in reference to are the number of pitches that Darvish threw in the game.
Why does any of this matter or factor into what happened on Saturday afternoon? Who cares that 108 pitches were thrown? It’s not like he threw 178 pitches. Well, Cubs’ skipper, Joe Maddon, made it a point before the game to say that Darvish would have a really long leash in the ballgame because of the roughed-up pen. When the manager has to come out publicly and say, “we’re relying on you to eat some innings today because things look bleak in the pen today,” that puts a little pressure on you to not just perform, but have some staying power in the game.
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And, while Darvish was not at peak performance on Saturday afternoon, what he did was gut his way through 7+ innings, keeping the Cubs in the game for as long as he could. While many Cubs’ fans were probably clamoring for Maddon to lift Darvish in the fifth or sixth innings, Darvish kept walking out to the mound, even heading back out there in the 8th- the only time he has ever appeared in that inning for the Cubs in his two seasons on the North Side. In fact, crazy enough, he had never even appeared in a seventh inning for the Cubs.
While Darvish didn’t factor into the decision or light up any stat boards with crazy numbers? He was able to act a lot like another guy on the staff who has had to eat innings and take one for his team many times in his career; in fact, he’s lauded for the bulldog mentality that allows him to do it with ease. It’s also one of the reasons Jon Lester is so highly respected by not just fans and the media, but his own teammates. Darvish picking up Lester this week, it seems, is not without a sense of irony nor a sense of meaning.
Will Yu Darvish use this gutsy performance to springboard into the guy we’ve seen for parts of games? No one really knows. However, what we do know is that after today’s performance, he definitely has the utmost respect of his teammates, his manager, and at least some knowledgeable Cubs’ fans.
Now that Darvish has done his best Lester, hopefully, the big left-hander can take a little inspiration from the embattled righty and get back on the horse in his next start this week.