CINCINNATI — If anybody at the ballpark Wednesday knew something about simulated games, comeback trails and strangers doubting his toughness, it was Mark Prior.
The former Cubs phenom and noted veteran of the towel drill is in his first season as the Dodgers’ bullpen coach and was on hand for Yu Darvish’s celebrated, 51-pitch “sim” game at Wrigley Field.
“I don’t know Yu so I can’t really speak to what he’s going through,” said Prior, who acknowledged his similar experiences with comebacks and doubters in Chicago. “I think it’s just important you try to stay focused on what you’ve got to do every single day to get better.”
Darvish fared well overnight and might start a minor-league rehab assignment as soon as Monday in South Bend, Indiana.
With his triceps soreness behind him, Darvish has spent more than a month on the disabled list working as much on a mental reset as a physical reset after an eight-game start that included a 1-3 record, a 4.95 ERA, boos from the home fans and criticism in the media.
Prior, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2001 draft, was an 18-game winner, All-Star and top-three Cy Young finisher by 2003. Then injuries altered the path of his career, and critics and questions dogged him long after his final big-league game in 2006.
Darvish has been dogged by similar questions about toughness. Teammate Chris Gimenez, who has known him since they played together in Texas, speculated in a conversation with the Sun-Times last month that Darvish thought fans “hate him,” based on their talks.
“It just comes with the territory,” said Prior, who got at least a small, bittersweet taste of vindication when shoulder surgery in 2007 revealed far more damage than anyone knew.
“Obviously, [Darvish] signed a contract here, and I’m sure people have expectations,” Prior added. “The main thing is to try to get yourself better every single day and work with the staff and getting back and being ready to help the team win.
“That’s what you can control,” Prior said. “And then everything else you’ve just got to kind of put it out of your mind and stay focused.”
Weekend pitching jumble
A doubleheader Tuesday and an impending birth has the Cubs waiting to determine who will start Saturday and Sunday in the final two games of this four-game series in Cincinnati. And the implications could extend into next week’s series in Los Angeles.
“We’re just going to have to wait on that,” manager Joe Maddon said.
Because of the doubleheader created by Monday’s postponement, the Cubs need a sixth starter Saturday.
It probably will be Luke Farrell, who had been starting in the minors and pitched five scoreless innings in a relief appearance early this month. Unless Farrell is needed out of the bullpen before Saturday.
As for Sunday, it’s either Tyler Chatwood or Mike Montgomery, who each started a game in the doubleheader, with the other pitching Monday. But Chatwood’s wife could go into labor at any time. If that happens, Chatwood will go on paternity leave. That could put the starter for the final game in L.A. in flux, pending his return.