MIAMI — How good did Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish feel after earning his first victory since May 20 with a season-high 5 2/3 innings against the Miami Marlins on Monday night?
Just ask him how and why he went from walking nobody in his previous start to walking four and hitting a batter against worst team in the National League:
“Just I’m Yu Darvish,” he said after the 7-2 victory at Marlins Park. “I walked guy[s].”
If self-awareness means anything, maybe the $126 million right-hander is onto something in his second shot at a first good season with the Cubs.
He put three guys on base after retiring the first two batters in the first, then struck out Austin Dean on three pitches. He walked the first two in the second, but retired the next three. And after retiring the first two batters again in the fifth, a walk, single and passed ball put both in scoring position with the tying run at the plate.
But he struck out Miguel Rojas with a slider and pumped his fist in his biggest show of emotion of the season as he walked off the mound.
“I loved the emotion he displayed today,” said manager Joe Maddon, calling it “sincere, visceral reaction,” and adding, “He really wanted to pitch well, and he did that.”
Nothing about the walks was good, especially in a big ballpark against the worst lineup he likely will see this season. But everything else suggested more of the “baby steps” Darvish said he wants to see each start – including finishing his start with three consecutive, darting two-seam fastballs between 97.8 and 98.7 mph – the last of which hit Lewis Brinson with two out in the sixth.
He hadn’t thrown a two-seamer even in spring training but felt comfortable enough to unleash it in what might have been another of those “visceral” moments as he stopped thinking and just attacked to close out what he figured was his final batter.
“I should do that next time,” he said, eliciting a few laughs. “Seriously. I’m thinking too much for strike, strike, strike. And that time I didn’t. So I should do that next time – but not for a hit by pitch.”
Kyle Ryan took over and struck out pinch-hitter Rosell Herrera to end the sixth.
Darvish in four starts this season has now pitched 2 2/3, four, 5 1/3 and 5 2/3 innings, with at least marginally improving results.
His Cub-career high is six innings, accomplished three times last year.
“He keeps getting better,” said Maddon, who doesn’t need to see the 98-mph fastball as much as he’d rather see more modest velocity with command.
“I’d love to see him pitch at 93-94. I think if he did that and locates it, that’d be plenty,” Maddon said. “And then if he needs that 95-plus, it’s in his back pocket.”
The extra juice at the end surprised even Darvish’s catcher.
“I know he can throw that hard, but at the end of the game I didn’t expect that,” said Willson Contreras, who drove in three runs Monday night, including one on his sixth homer of the season.
As for the final pitch that dove in on Brinson and then caromed into the umpire, Contreras was especially impressed.
“Oh, man,” he said. “When he throws that sinker down and in, that’s unhittable, especially at 99 mph.”