MILWAUKEE — This was what the Cubs had in mind in December when they talked about their plans to replace all those departed pitchers. There’s a lot of season left, but for one Saturday at least, the plan came to fruition.
To wit: $126 million starter Yu Darvish pitched six exceptional innings in a bounce-back start from his rough debut, while $21 million closer Brandon Morrow finally got a bona fide inning to pitch and flashed 97 mph with command to earn his first save as a Cub.
Final score: Cubs 5, Brewers 2.
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Manager Joe Maddon’s first impressions of his big offseason acquisitions in the same game?
“As advertised,’’ he said. ‘‘The way Yu pitched and the way Morrow followed it up, that’s exactly what you think you’re going to get when you research and acquire these guys in the offseason. That’s who they are. And they definitely showed up today.”
The victory evened the Cubs’ record at 4-4, and they have a chance Sunday to bring a winning record back for the home opener against the Pirates on Monday.
Darvish didn’t stick around long enough to get a decision in a game the Cubs won with four runs in the ninth.
Coming off a 4⅓-inning debut with little command, Darvish looked like a different pitcher Saturday. He went from a fastball-slider debut to using a mix of seven pitches, including what catcher Willson Contreras swears were three different sliders.
Two days after spending more than an hour with pitching strategists Mike Borzello and Tommy Hottovy, Darvish struck out nine, walked one and gave up just two hits, including Eric Thames’ homer on a 3-2 slider to lead off the fourth inning for the first run of the game.
“He hits a groove with his delivery, kind of this rhythmic thing,” Maddon said of Darvish’s game pattern. “Once he gets to that point, heads up because he’s going to throw strikes exactly where he wants to, and that’s where he was at the time we had to take him out.”
Kris Bryant’s home run leading off the sixth meant that Darvish handed off a 1-1 game when he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh.
Darvish doesn’t know about finding a rhythm as a game progresses, but he knows when he doesn’t have it, like last week in Miami.
For a pitcher who was the centerpiece of the offseason, he also knew the importance of finding success quickly.
“The big contract part doesn’t really come into the deal,” he said. “But as a baseball player, I think it’s important for me to go out there and do my stuff and get results.”
The comeback against a division rival notwithstanding, this Darvish gem might have been the most significant result of the weekend so far.
“The biggest thing is, he just looked more comfortable,” said Cubs ace Jon Lester, whose pinch-hit safety squeeze drove in the fourth run of the ninth.
“Your first start with a new team, big expectations and signing a new deal and all that stuff,” said Lester, who admitted to the same thoughts early in 2015 after signing his six-year, $155 million deal. “He’s a guy we won’t really worry about. He’ll be fine. His stuff’s good enough. Even on his off days he’ll be fine. So it’s just a matter probably for him getting comfortable and getting into that rotation and getting into turns and pitching.”
Said Contreras: “The first game he was too anxious to have a real good start. That’s why he was making mistakes. Today, he was calmed down, and he executed every pitch.”