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From stud to dud: Yu Darvish’s command unravels quickly in season debut for Cubs

Darvish in the dugout after being removed from the game in the third inning Saturday night.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Maybe it was the emotion of pitching in an old home ballpark for the first time since 2017. Maybe it was the pent-up anticipation of a season that means so much to him after a terrible 2018.

Maybe it was Elvis Andrus’ ‘‘Baby Shark’’ walk-up music getting stuck in his ears and grinding his gears.

Whatever it was that sent Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish’s six-week high of good vibes and swagger crashing into a seven-walk start that didn’t survive the third inning Saturday, he offered no excuses.

‘‘I can’t tell why right now,’’ he said after the shortest start of his career (2 2/3 innings) against the Rangers. ‘‘I have to look at the video [Sunday]. But the ball was fine. The mound was fine. It’s just all about me.’’

Thanks in large part to a three-run first inning, the Cubs led when Darvish left the game before eventually losing 8-6 on a three-run home run by Joey Gallo off Carl Edwards Jr. in the eighth.

Fifth starter Jose Quintana, held in reserve as insurance against a short start, pitched four innings to get the lead to the eighth. Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras had big games at the plate for a lineup that did its job again against Rangers pitching.

But after a smiling, wise-cracking, strike-throwing Darvish topped six weeks of spring-training storylines, this night was almost assured of being all about him, regardless of the outcome.

Against that backdrop, he admitted that emotions played a role in a return to Globe Life Park that ‘‘means a lot to me’’ and that he was disappointed ‘‘a little bit’’ by the outcome.

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‘‘But it’s just the first outing,’’ he said. ‘‘The season just started.’’

Catcher Contreras picked up on the homecoming emotions.

‘‘I could see his body language,’’ Contreras said. ‘‘He got really emotional.’’

But even Contreras said the emotions weren’t the problem. He thought Darvish was trying to be ‘‘too fine’’ by the time his command began to slip after striking out the first two batters he faced.

Darvish’s velocity and stuff looked good enough, and Contreras, Darvish and manager Joe Maddon said the same thing. And Darvish said the blister issue he had late in camp wasn’t a factor.

‘‘I’m not pointing fingers at him,’’ Contreras said. ‘‘He’s our guy. And I hope he keeps improving as the season goes on.’’

But for at least one night, the smile was gone and the one-liners took a hiatus.

After the two strikeouts in the first, he walked the next three batters before striking out Asdrubal Cabrera on a checked swing. He then went on to walk the first three batters of the second before striking out Shin-Soo Choo.

That was 10 batters faced before a ball was put into play against him.

‘‘That was weird,’’ he said.

Only five balls were put into play against Darvish and only four stayed in play, thanks to Cabrera’s two-run home run in the third.

‘‘The first couple of guys I feel good, but after that I lost my command, especially with the fastball,’’ he said.

<em>Saturday during Cubs BP</em>
Saturday during Cubs BP

Nobody’s writing Darvish off after one start in 2019. But how he responds in his second start Thursday against the Braves in Atlanta might be telling.

‘‘He’s been one of the best in the game for a long time,’’ teammate Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘He just needs to go out and be him; that’s all we want. And we’ve got his back, no matter what.’’

The Cubs gave Darvish a quick 3-0 lead in the first on a one-out double by Kris Bryant, a walk to Rizzo and consecutive RBI singles by Javy Baez, Schwarber and Contreras.