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Cubs need Yu Darvish to ‘ramp it up’ in second half


SAN DIEGO — It’s not just the Cubs’ front office, manager, fans and media. Teammates are starting to ask right-hander Yu Darvish when he’s going to pitch for them again.

On Saturday, it was first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whose locker is near Darvish’s this weekend in the visitors’ clubhouse at Petco Park.

Darvish’s response: ‘‘I don’t know.’’

That means Rizzo got about the same answer all the other inquiring minds have received since Darvish went on the disabled list in May because of soreness near his surgically repaired elbow.

But the Cubs are going to need a better answer soon — for the well-being of their pennant hopes after the All-Star break, as well as the health of their $126 million pitcher.

They hope to take a sizable step toward some clarity soon. Darvish expects to throw from a mound next weekend for the first time since a setback and cortisone shot in late June, provided ‘‘all goes well without the pain and everything goes smoothly.’’

Speaking publicly Saturday for the first time since a trip to Texas for the second diagnosis and shot, Darvish said he wants to return to the rotation ‘‘as soon as possible’’ but suggested he’s not confident yet in the fitness of his elbow.

‘‘There was a lot of pain in [Los Angeles],’’ he said through an interpreter of the aborted bullpen session that prompted the trip to Texas. ‘‘So I’ve got that in mind. There’s a little bit of that scariness that’s left in my mind.’’

The closest thing to certainty at this point is that doctors have cleared him to start a throwing program. And this: The Cubs need the kind of finish they envision from a healthy, rested Darvish to have the pitching quality and depth they think they need to make another deep postseason run.

They took the field Saturday against the Padres in first place in the National League Central largely on the strength of an effective bullpen, a productive lineup and the pitching of All-Star left-hander Jon Lester.

But the absence of Darvish, command issues of Tyler Chatwood and inconsistent opening months of Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana have created a hard-to-sustain formula for success.


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‘‘I think we’ve said this about all of our starting pitching: The best way we can improve in the second half is by all those guys pitching up to their capabilities,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said. ‘‘It was nice to see the way Kyle pitched last time out and the way Q pitched. Hopefully, that’s a harbinger of things to come.’’

Hendricks (6-8) pitched one out into the ninth inning Monday in San Francisco — the longest start of the season for the Cubs — and allowed no earned runs. He followed that up with five innings in an 11-6 victory Saturday against the Padres.

Hendricks didn’t walk a batter and retired 12 of the 15 batters he faced after yielding a two-run homer to Eric Hosmer in the first.

Meanwhile, the Cubs turn their yearning eyes toward Darvish and hope he can return quickly and deliver a strong finish.

‘‘My sense is he feels better, that his arm’s been feeling good,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘Our hope is that after the break he can ramp it up. So I have no reason to be pessimistic.

‘‘Our hope is that the cortisone shot worked, that he gets rid of any soreness and the next time he goes through the same [throwing] progression that he went through before that it works and it takes and he’s back with us.’’

Darvish, who came back successfully last season from Tommy John surgery, called his issues this season ‘‘weird’’ and different than he has experienced in his career. But he found peace of mind in Texas after an ‘‘impingement’’ was found.

‘‘I want to contribute to the team as soon as possible,’’ he said.