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Kick-start? Jon Lester nears return as Yu Darvish struggles in Cubs’ loss

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Yu Darvish, of Japan, throws against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 20, 2019, in Chicago. | Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

In between innings of a frustrating start Saturday, right-hander Yu Darvish sat next to teammate Anthony Rizzo in the Cubs’ dugout.

He turned to the first baseman and asked what he was doing wrong and how to fix it, Darvish told Japanese media after the game.

“You have to get hungry,” Rizzo said.

At which point, Darvish took the mound in the fifth inning and retired the side, striking out the last two batters he faced.

Whether Rizzo’s advice sticks with Darvish for the rest of the season is uncertain. But at least it did enough to help him close out the final inning of his start in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss to the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field.

Darvish’s 13th start as a Cub was another dip on the roller coaster for the big-money pitcher. He has admitted that he often overthinks while he’s on the mound.

“I feel like his confidence is something he’s going to have to keep building on for himself, and every game is different,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “Today, I guess you could say was a step back or whatever. The last start was pretty good, and the next start I know he’s going to come out and try to be hungry again.”

On a day that began with encouraging news on ace Jon Lester, the Cubs had their four-game winning streak snapped and a streak of three consecutive scoreless starts end. The last starter to give up a run was Darvish on Monday in a win over the Marlins.

Darvish allowed back-to-back home runs in the first inning and then threw eight straight balls to start the second. That’s the kind of day it was Darvish, who got better over the last three innings in an 88-pitch outing.

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“My first couple of innings, I was struggling with command,” Darvish said. “I have to be more aggressive with hitters. The fifth inning was really good, so it’s great for next start.”

Darvish’s flat outing happened just hours after the Cubs received good news for the rotation. Lester, who has been on the injured list since April 9 with a tight left hamstring, threw 45 pitches in a simulated game Saturday morning at Wrigley Field. Manager Joe Maddon was encouraged by the throwing session and thought Lester looked very good.

The Cubs’ next step with Lester is to see how he feels Sunday. And though the Cubs haven’t set his timeline yet, Maddon didn’t rule out the left-hander returning for the Dodgers series next week.

The Cubs’ rotation has shown signs of improvement without Lester. Since he went down, the starters have a combined 1.89 ERA in nine outings.

“They’ve gotten really sharp,” Maddon said. “It’s what they’re capable of. Maybe you just have to get kicked in the pants a little bit. This is what we could look like as a pitching staff.”

For the rotation to sustain that level of success, it likely must include a more consistent Darvish.

“When I go there, I can get more confident,” said Darvish, who still hasn’t made it out of the sixth inning this season on the heels of the worst year of his career. “So I want to throw six or seven innings.”