ST. LOUIS — Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish was motivated.
‘‘I know the Cardinals are a rival [of] the Cubs,’’ Darvish said. ‘‘Especially the last outing against the Cardinals, they got me. So I really wanted to do a good job.’’
If Darvish can harness his emotions and channel his drive to succeed as well as he did in the Cubs’ 2-1, 10-inning loss Friday to the Cardinals, the beleaguered pitcher finally might be headed in the right direction.
Darvish responded to his own challenge with a stellar — albeit imperfect — performance. He allowed one run and six hits in six innings, with three walks, a hit batsman and a wild pitch. After walking Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong to open the first inning — with a wild pitch in between — Darvish retired the next nine batters and 11 of the next 12. He didn’t allow a hit until Paul Goldschmidt singled to lead off the fourth. He walked one of the final 21 batters he faced.
It’s tough to say he’s on a roll, but steady improvement is being detected. It was the fourth time in his last five starts that Darvish allowed three runs or fewer.
‘‘I feel pretty good without the first inning,’’ he said. ‘‘It was a good outing for me.’’
And he agreed that his impressive start against the Cardinals was a confidence boost, which he might or might not have needed.
‘‘It’s really good for me [mentally],’’ he said. ‘‘Because I have a good outing one start, [and] the next outing [is] always, like, four runs, five runs [allowed]. But now I’m getting better, so it makes me more confident.’’
Manager Joe Maddon, who has defended Darvish no matter the circumstances throughout his shaky tenure since signing with the Cubs, was thrilled with Darvish’s performance against the Cardinals. He didn’t have to reach for accolades after this one.
‘‘Just better command,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He commanded everything, pretty much. Got away from him just a couple of times, but he was able to regroup.
‘‘Just electric stuff. You could see the hitters’ reaction to a lot of his pitches. He was throwing the fastball for strikes, too, which makes it really difficult for the other side. Threw a 93 mph splitter, I think, for one strikeout. He’s starting to feel it a little bit right now.’’
Darvish escaped a jam in the fifth, when he struck out Carpenter with what looked like a nasty two-seam fastball with runners at first and second.
‘‘That was a splitter to Carpenter,’’ Darvish said. ‘‘But two-seamer’s good, too. Little by little, each pitch, I’m starting to feel confident in.’’
Darvish still faces challenges and a mental hurdle or two in regaining his All-Star form. One of them is pitching well at Wrigley Field. Since April 20, he has a 2.08 ERA in three starts on the road and a 6.23 ERA in five starts at home.
‘‘I don’t know why, but I know the numbers,’’ Darvish said. ‘‘[That’s why] two weeks ago I told you guys, ‘I really need a good outing [at] Wrigley.’ ’’
Maddon said the disparity is ‘‘self-inflicted,’’ but he is confident Darvish’s overall improvement will carry over to home starts.
‘‘Yu is a thinker,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘I thought he pitched really well after that early part of his game when he [walked two with a wild pitch]. I just see him becoming more comfortable as a Cub, period. And as he does, what you saw is what you could see on a consistent basis.’’