For a guy who has been labeled both mentally and physically weak at various points in the last two seasons, “gutsy” probably isn’t the first word that comes to anyone’s mind to describe Yu Darvish.
The embattled right-hander has already suffered many slings and arrows and has had to deal with the outrageous fortune of a nagging injury in his 15 months as a Cub. He hasn’t publicly complained, he hasn’t whined, and he hasn’t thrown anyone else under the bus. He certainly did not take up arms against this sea of troubles and angst— well, I suppose he couldn’t after he was shut down last year.
What he did on the mound yesterday may go a long way in winning back some fans and giving himself some confidence to go along with the unbelievable stuff everyone knows is there. He’d already won his manager and teammates over, that much has been made obvious.
Darvish certainly didn’t turn in his finest pitching performance on Saturday afternoon, and to be frank, he didn’t even turn in a good one.
Ah, but here’s the rub: What he did manage was something the team needed even more than a great performance as dictated by stats. Darvish gutted out 7+ innings on a day where the Cubs someone to give the bullpen a break, pitching into the 8th inning for the first time in a Cubs uniform.
It didn’t matter that he gave up 12 hits and 6 runs. It didn’t even matter that he served up a bomb to Derek Dietrich in the top of the 8th (and letting him come out for the 8th was a questionable decision, even by Joe Maddon’s standards) before exiting.
Darvish’s ability to throw only 108 pitches and make it all the way to that point was a godsend for Maddon and especially, the pen. For a guy who had averaged only 4.8 IP per start coming into the Saturday, it was a miracle he was even able to get to the 8th inning.
When Maddon publicly stated before the game that he was going to ride Darvish a little longer than usual today with the bullpen in flux and tired, most fans probably laughed and just assumed that meant he wouldn’t pull him in the 4th inning. But it’s a very serious matter beyond just this one game. Maddon trusting Darvish after carefully protecting the pitcher’s psyche early on is a Big Deal.
That Darvish was able to soak up seven full innings under the circumstances means so much to a team and fanbase reeling because of its bullpen. And, honestly, he could have been pitching a different game knowing full well that he had to try and get deeper into the game than he was used or able to previously. That would sure explain the number of hits and also the relatively low pitch count for Darvish compared to other games.
Perhaps he can turn this gritty performance into an enterprise of great pitching for the rest of the season and end all the whining of naysayers who think his conscience and sensitivity make him a coward. The team and fans, probably Darvish himself, would just be happy with consistently solid performance, let alone anything great.
No one’s going to look back at Saturday’s effort as some sort of landmark for Darvish as a Cub, but he proved that he can pitch through adversity and pitching into the 8th showed that Maddon trusts him. Now it’s time to start putting everything together before shuffling off this mortal coil.