PITTSBURGH — Those aren’t “boos.” They’re “Yuuuus.”
At least, that’s what Cubs catcher Chris Gimenez assures beleaguered pitcher Yu Darvish the latter will hear from fans when it really counts.
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But right now? According to Gimenez — who played with Darvish in Texas and knows him better than anyone else in the Cubs clubhouse — the pitcher is having a hard time dealing with the criticism he’s hearing and reading as he serves his second stint on the disabled list of the season.
It all boils down to one very strong word.
“I think he thinks that Chicago hates him for going on the DL a couple of times,” Gimenez said. “I’ve tried to portray to him, ‘Listen, they’re going to love you when we get to October and we’re doing the things that we all want to do here, you’re the main reason we’re doing it and we’re riding you all the way through it.
“So don’t worry about them getting mad at you on Twitter in May. Worry about when we get to September, October and they’re chanting your name.”
Darvish has been called soft, sensitive, aloof. His first trip to the 10-day DL — with the flu — has been roundly criticized, and in some cases mocked. This has happened among fans. It has been present on talk radio. The phrase “Yu flu” may roll off the tongue, but its derisive use has gotten under the skin of the 31-year-old All-Star, who signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in the offseason.
“He reads Twitter. He reads all that stuff,” Gimenez said. “We all do. Honestly, I know it upsets him — and rightfully so.”
Darvish is back on the 10-day DL with inflammation in his right triceps. An MRI revealed no structural damage to his pitching arm, the team announced before Wednesday’s game against the Pirates. He’s expected to begin a throwing program late this weekend or early next week and likely will miss at least two more starts.
Yet there is a certain sentiment out there that maybe, just maybe, Darvish ought to be on the mound every fifth day, hard at work on improving his 1-3 record and 4.95 ERA. And there are those who wonder if he has recovered from a nightmarish 2017 World Series with the Dodgers, when he bombed twice against the Astros, including in Game 7.
“I know that it rubs him the wrong way,” Gimenez said. “He is champing at the bit to come back and show everybody what he can do. And I think that’s just coming off last year — he was so irked at how it ended. He didn’t do what his team needed him to do at the end of the year, and he feels the weight of that burden on him and really wants to get out there and prove to everybody that he can be the man.”
Gimenez describes Darvish as a shy guy who takes a while to get to know, but also as goofy enough to walk by an unsuspecting teammate in the dugout and drop a wad of gum into his water cup. Once during a game, Gimenez — who caught 12 of Darvish’s starts in 2014 — was staring out at the field intently when he realized Darvish was flicking sunflower seeds at his face.
“He’s not the most outgoing guy, but he wants to be a [bigger] part of this team,” Gimenez said. “Guys are starting to embrace him a little bit more, and I know that’s a big deal for him.”
Gimenez, too, is well aware of the questions and criticisms in regard to Darvish. The one that rankles him is the “soft” label.
“An extreme competitor,” he called Darvish. “When he’s on the mound, he wants to eat you for breakfast. He really does.”
Some Cubs observers — is it too soon to call them “haters”? — are going to have to see that to believe it.