PHOENIX — All it took was some survival skills in the first inning and a five-run lead in the fifth. And just like that, Yu Darvish joined the party with the rest of the rotation.
“It wasn’t my best, but after the third, I felt pretty good,” said Darvish, who survived heavy labor in the first two innings to match his Cubs career high with six innings in a 9-1 victory against the Diamondbacks on Saturday night at Chase Field.
He threw 56 pitches in the first two innings and put five men on base — including three walks and a hit batter — but didn’t give up a run until a sixth-inning homer. He earned just his third win since signing a
$126 million deal before last season.
“From Inning 3 on he just cruised,” said rookie catcher Taylor Davis, who made his third career start. “That was the Yu that the league has seen and the Yu that hopefully the league sees the rest of his career.”
Until the Cubs staked him to a 5-0 lead in the third — three runs coming from -David Bote’s first of two home runs — Darvish struggled with command and pace.
“He just started finding the strike zone,” said manager Joe Maddon, who before the game talked about waiting for Darvish to “flip that switch” on his season.
That happened after the big third, when he came back to strike out the side with a 13-pitch inning.
“Historically, he’s a pretty good front-runner,” Maddon said. “He just started attacking the strike zone.”
Even after a leadoff homer followed by a walk in the sixth, Maddon said, “I wanted to see if he could figure out that sixth inning because I knew that was going to benefit us down the road.”
Darvish (2-3) retired the next three batters and finished with his highest pitch total (110) since June 7, 2017, as the Cubs snapped a two-game skid with their 10th victory in 14 games. Days off will provide extra rest before his next start.
Darvish, who spent almost all of last season on the injured list with elbow problems, said he considers Saturday a turning point. “Especially the last four innings,” he said. “It was a feeling I didn’t have my last five starts.”
Leaving the mound in each of his final three innings, he got increasingly louder cheers of “Yuuuuuuu” from a crowd loaded with Cubs fans.
If this marked the turning point that he and his teammates seem to think it did, it could be an outsized difference-maker this season for team that already rebounded from a slow start on the strength of its rotation. Including Saturday, six Cubs starters have a collective 2.30 ERA over the last 14 games.
With Darvish heating up going forward?
“Watch out,” said Bote, whose first multihomer game produced five RBI. “All it takes sometimes is seeing that one good one, like a shooter in basketball when he sees that first one go in.”
NOTES Left-hander Mike Montgomery (lat) had his minor-league rehab start pushed back to Sunday when Class AAA Iowa was snowed out.
— David Bote was in the middle of a brief, uneventful bench-clearing incident when he was hit by a pitch in the seventh. He thought briefly of escalating “but thought better of it.”
— Third-base coach Brian Butterfield took the day off because he was ill.