Something was rotten in Denver.
Not Yu Darvish, though he certainly wasn’t good Saturday against the Rockies. No, the rotten part was the way the Cubs treated him that day, after he had struggled again.
Catcher Willson Conteras called out Darvish for walking Rockies pitcher Tyler Anderson with two outs. Four hits and a walk had followed that initial walk.
‘‘I think he looked like he got too comfortable once he got two outs,’’ Contreras said. ‘‘ . . . He walked [Mike Tauchman with one out], and then the fake bunt [by Anderson] I think messed around with Darvish in his head. It looks like he got too comfortable when he got the second out. In the big leagues, no matter how many outs there are, you have to keep attacking the hitters. I hope we learn from that.’’
I can’t recall anyone calling out Jon Lester in a similar way. Or Kyle Hendricks. Or Jose Quintana. The catcher who called out Jake Arrieta for being slow to the plate last season was traded soon after.
All I’ve heard when a Cubs pitcher goes through a rough patch is excuses from manager Joe Maddon and his teammates.
But now Darvish, four games into his Cubs career, gets a light spanking from a 25-year-old catcher?
Is that any way to treat a veteran, especially one who might be getting used to the weight of a six-year, $126 million contract? Why is Darvish getting this treatment when no one else does? Why, specifically, are the Cubs treating him differently than they treated Arrieta when he struggled last season?
The easy explanation is that Darvish has built a reputation as a pitcher who doesn’t do well when difficulties arise and that the Cubs want him to toughen up. When he fell apart in two World Series games for the Dodgers last season, he was painted as sensitive and unable to handle pressure.
But it’s also possible the Cubs see Arrieta doing well (2-0, 2.04 ERA) with the Phillies and dearly want to be seen as having made the right decision in free agency with Darvish (0-2, 6.86).
There’s a whiff of panic to how they’re viewing Darvish’s early days with the franchise. It’s way too soon to be concerned with his performances. Or, if there is reason to be concerned with him in such a public way, then they should be just as concerned publicly about a number of other Cubs during this rocky start. But you don’t hear a peep about Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell or Quintana.
And then there’s this: Who is Contreras, in his second full season as a big-league starter, to point out publicly what Darvish is doing wrong? Who is he to tell Darvish publicly how things work in the big leagues? I see Darvish’s four All-Star selections; I don’t see any for Contreras. And why give opponents any ammunition about what ails Darvish?
Fans and media types immediately lauded Contreras for calling out Darvish.
He was asserting himself as a team leader! they raved.
He was lighting a fire under his pitcher! they gushed.
He said what needed to be said! they crowed.
You know, sort of like Miguel Montero did with Arrieta last season, right before the Cubs traded him for being too outspoken.
Montero didn’t like that the Nationals had stolen seven bases in a game, and he let reporters know afterward that Arrieta’s slow delivery was the cause.
‘‘It really sucked because the stolen bases go to me, and when you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time,’’ he said. ‘‘Simple as that.’’
The Cubs traded him to the Blue Jays soon after because, they said, they were trying to improve the clubhouse culture. In other words, Montero was selfish. Perhaps, but he was also correct in his assessment of Arrieta’s slow delivery, which the pitcher later acknowledged.
It always amuses me how storylines in sports are massaged by athletes, coaches, general managers and teams for their best interests. For example, new Bears coach Matt Nagy is the breath of fresh air that was missing with fired coach John Fox, who had been the law-and-order answer to the kooky Marc Trestman, who was an innovative upgrade to the sedate Lovie Smith.
And Contreras simply is taking the next step in his development as a catcher. That’s the 10-ton narrative, and just try moving it.
Darvish deserves better than the treatment he received Saturday. He was a star when the Cubs signed him. Four starts into his Chicago career, nothing has changed, except how the team has decided to deal with one specific player. Strange.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play or via RSS feed.