ATLANTA — Yu Darvish said he doesn’t get upset about all the questions and perceptions about his toughness after his first several weeks of pitching for the Cubs.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” the Cubs’ $126 million enigma said through a translator Tuesday night after pitching just four innings in his return to the rotation after a bout of flu put him on the disabled list.
This time it was a cramp in his right calf that caused manager Joe Maddon to pull him in an abbreviated start. Well, “not necessarily a cramp, but the point I felt it in my calf,” Darvish said.
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Good thing he’s not bothered by those outside perceptions, because as good as he looked through much of his four innings, this start didn’t do anything to rehab the first impression he has made since signing a six-year deal in February.
The Cubs wound up beating the Braves 3-2 with a dramatic ninth-inning comeback at SunTrust Park. And Darvish might yet average seven innings per start the rest of the year and pitch himself into Cy Young contention.
But for now, he’s a very expensive, winless starting pitcher who hasn’t made it through five innings in five of his seven starts — and who was booed off the mound the last time he pitched at home.
“I thought that was ‘Yu’-ing,” he deadpanned.
Darvish has unraveled in the fifth following a balk in one start and a two-out walk to the starting pitcher in another. Another non-cramp (in his forearm) caused him to falter in another start.
“It’s really important that I go out there and pitch in the fifth,” said Darvish, who told Maddon during Tuesday’s game that he wanted to return to the mound. “I was expecting to go out there. I just wanted to let Joe know of the calf situation, just in case.
“But this year, especially the fifth inning has been the most challenging thing, so I think it’s really important to go out there and throw through the fifth inning.”
Darvish said the flu bug was “the worst I’ve ever experienced” and that even after 10 days, he got fatigued climbing stairs.
In his first start in 13 days, he got through just 61 pitches, allowing three hits and
one run — Ender Inciarte’s two-out homer in the fourth. He gave up two walks and struck out five.
“I was expecting him to go back out, and the trainers came up to me and told me he felt somewhat of a cramping issue in the fourth,” Maddon said. “Yu came up and wanted to go back out, and I said pretty much, ‘No, I don’t think that’s wise.’ A guy having been ill recently, it just doesn’t make any sense. He did a great job today, and that’s why I did what I did.”
Darvish vowed to “eat a lot and train a lot” to be “100 percent again” for his next start Sunday in Cincinnati.
Until then, he can take solace in lowering his ERA to 5.56 and throwing five different pitches effectively until his sudden departure.
“I was not disappointed at all,” Maddon said. “My concern is always the health and safety of our guys, especially when somebody’s coming off of being ill. Dehydration is such a nasty little thing, and I think a lot of times it’s not given enough credit, where people think it’s no big deal. But it is.”
Darvish, 31, has the promise of maybe 180 more starts on his contract to help put the early perceptions to rest. Those perceptions followed him, by the way, from 5½ years in Texas through a pair of World Series starts last fall for the Dodgers in which he didn’t pitch out of the second inning either time.
As he said Tuesday, “I feel like I could be criticized even more. So I’m willing to accept more criticism, if there is any.”