MILWAUKEE — Back when they were together on the Rangers in 2014, Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish and catcher Chris Gimenez had a bit of a disagreement.
Gimenez was tired of runners stealing bases so easily off Darvish, and he told the massively talented right-hander so.
“I don’t care,” Darvish replied.
“But I do,” Gimenez said. “It makes me look bad.”
Darvish looked at the catcher with stone-cold confidence and said: “Don’t worry about it. I’ll just strike everybody out.”
Darvish had good enough stuff to pitch his way out of gnarly situations, and he knew it. He still does.
Before Tuesday’s game against the Brewers at Miller Park, Darvish — three weeks into his second disabled-list stint of the season — threw 28 pitches off a bullpen mound. Then he answered questions, with the help of an interpreter, on the topics we’ve all been talking and fretting about in regard to the $126 million free-agent.
Might such a big-ticket newcomer — who already went on the DL with the flu — really be out, due to triceps tendinitis, until after the All-Star break? Has a guy with a 1-3 record and a 4.95 ERA been unable to relocate his mojo since last season’s World Series meltdown with the Dodgers? Is he indeed under the impression that Chicago “hates” him, as Gimenez recently surmised in a Sun-Times story by yours truly?
• Tyler Chatwood looks better but not good enough to prevent Cubs’ loss to Brewers
• Cubs playing like a trade-deadline buyer — without a shopping list
Darvish’s essential message on all of that: “Don’t worry about it.”
About a month before the All-Star break, Darvish had this to say about speculation that Cubs fans won’t see him back on the hill until the season’s second half.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “At least, I have not been told that. . . . I’m hoping to [pitch] before.”
Has he been rattled by his World Series experience and the pressure that came with his six-year contract?
“I’ve had a lot of time to think during the DL time,” he said. “I try not to think too much [about] the pressure rather than just to take it in a positive way. So I think I can come [off] the DL positively.”
And Darvish claimed there was nothing to the aforementioned comments about Cubs fans “hating” him. Dodgers fans may not have been inclined to throw him a parade last November, but Cubs fans are downright digging him.
“The fans here are very supportive,” he said. “Even in my situation, they’ll come up to me when they see me in town and say, ‘Hey, thanks for all the performances.’ So I really do feel the support.”
Meanwhile, the Cubs were plenty encouraged by what they saw from the 6-5, 225-pounder as he threw a variety
of pitches to Gimenez.
“It went really well,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “Based on some of the reports when he was playing catch and stuff, I wasn’t expecting quite the quality of bullpen that we saw. It was crisp. He seemed to be letting it go without hesitation. He threw all his pitches. He commanded really well. It was free and easy. I think everybody was pleased, including Yu.”
The Cubs will continue to proceed with care when it comes to Darvish, who also felt discomfort in his right triceps in 2015 and, only weeks later, was on the operating table having Tommy John surgery. Darvish’s “sense of self-care,” as Epstein put it, is to be taken seriously.
But even on that front, Darvish seemed unworried.
“Because I had a similar injury when I had the Tommy John surgery, I’m more careful and more sensitive about it this time,” he said. “So I just want to take the time and process things slowly. The MRI showed nothing. From the experience from the Tommy John surgery, I’d like to take this as a positive and go forward.”
Whenever Darvish returns to the rotation, he’ll have to be as great as he has ever been to avoid having 2018, his Cubs debut, go down in the books as underwhelming. It is par for the course for free-agent arrivals to struggle in Year 1, according to Epstein.
“But there’s a point in time where you fight back and you develop a sense of a new normal and you’re comfortable in your surroundings and you establish yourself,” Epstein said.
The Darvish who stood in a Cubs tank top and flip-flops Tuesday, a promising day’s work behind him, sounded like someone who was ready to take on that fight in earnest, ready to get to work on that new normal. And who could hate him for that?