CINCINNATI — It took seven weeks, eight starts, two cramps and a stretch on the disabled list with the flu, but the Yu Darvish the Cubs had been waiting for finally showed up Sunday.
The $126 million right-hander, who was the jewel of the Cubs’ winter, had pitched well in two early starts against the Brewers. But his performance in the Cubs’ 6-1 victory against the Reds at Great American Ball Park was especially significant — and not just because it produced his first victory with the team.
After weeks of cramps and fifth-inning meltdowns had knocked him out of starts, Darvish survived a 39-pitch first inning, limiting the Reds to one run, then took off on his most efficient five-inning run of the season. He retired eight batters in a row after an infield single drove in the Reds’ only run and 15 of 18 overall — without allowing a hit — in the rest of his six-inning start.
‘‘Turn the mind off and just go pitch,’’ manager Joe Maddon said.
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It’s what the Cubs have waited the first two months of the season to see from Darvish, a four-time All-Star.
‘‘That’s the guy that we all know,’’ said teammate Kyle Schwarber, whose strongest impression of Darvish before the signing was a dominant start for the Dodgers to beat the Cubs in the playoffs last season — the last time Darvish had won a game. ‘‘We’re excited when he takes the mound because we know what he’s capable of. He showed it again today. He’s Yu Darvish for a reason.’’
And if he’s more of this Yu Darvish going forward, the Cubs’ lukewarm start to the season might start to heat up quickly.
‘‘I want to believe so,’’ said Maddon, who pulled Darvish after 94 pitches only because his spot was due up in the top of the seventh in a three-run game at the time. ‘‘But you have to wait and see. I really believe he’s going to garner that confidence from today.
‘‘If he’s pitching with confidence, gets in a rhythm out there, trusts his stuff, he’s going to pitch well for several more years. He’s such an outstanding talent.’’
Darvish, who said rediscovering his fastball command after the first was the key, also pitched well for four innings Tuesday in Atlanta before a cramp-like feeling in his right calf ended his first outing after the DL stint.
‘‘It’s definitely a confidence booster, throwing those two outings,’’ Darvish (1-3) said through a translator. ‘‘While I want to take this further, I don’t want to be too eager to [get ahead of myself]. I want to stay humble and keep grinding.’’
A key moment came with two outs and one on in the fourth, when Darvish walked the pitcher on four pitches — a scenario similar to one that led to him unraveling in a previous start. This time he stepped off the mound, took a moment to regroup, said he wanted to yell ‘‘to get it out of my system,’’ then listened to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who burned a mound visit to encourage him to stay focused.
Billy Hamilton popped up the next pitch to end the inning, and Darvish had his first victory with the Cubs a few innings later.
‘‘One win is much better than zero wins,’’ he said. ‘‘So hopefully I can now ride the wave.’’
The Cubs’ 4-2 trip through Atlanta and Cincinnati marked the first time through a turn in the rotation that Tyler Chatwood, Jose Quintana and Darvish all pitched well, combining to go 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA in 18‰ innings.
‘‘They’re as good as you’ve just seen,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘They’re going to continue on that path. There is a break-in period, and there also was a bad-weather period. As their confidence goes, they’re going to go.’’