Jon Lester on Cubs teammate Yu Darvish: ‘It makes you jealous at times what he’s able to do’
For potential Opening Day tone-setters, the Cubs have nobody else who brings close to what Darvish has brought to the mound since camp opened, if not since early July.
MESA, Ariz. — When Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish was done talking with Japanese media after his first spring start Saturday, he glanced at the Chicago media and walked the other way, toward the clubhouse.
Just before he got to the door, he stopped, turned back to the writers and smiled.
He then spent the next seven minutes chatting and joking as easily as he had commanded a 98 mph fastball and five other pitches during an electric two innings against the Brewers.
‘‘Sounds about right from him,’’ veteran left-hander Jon Lester said after his own sharp three innings Sunday.
Lester was talking specifically about the pitching side of Darvish.
‘‘It makes you jealous at times with what he’s able to do,’’ Lester said. ‘‘If we get him going like we had him in the second half last year, that’s obviously only going to help us. Hopefully he can do that from Day 1, and we can kind of jump on his back.’’
Day 1? Lester said he merely was talking in general. But the way Darvish looks this spring after a dominant second half last season, the only thing left is for manager David Ross to say it out loud.
Ross isn’t quite ready to reveal his season-opening rotation, even if he has Darvish, Lester and right-hander Kyle Hendricks lined up on their spring schedules to land on the first three days of the season in Milwaukee.
Of course, that can be manipulated easily between now and then. And a day off after the opener allows for even more manipulation if, for instance, Ross wants left-hander Jose Quintana in the finale against the Brewers and Hendricks for the home opener March 30 against the Pirates.
The two important points are that, barring injury, the Cubs have options and, perhaps more worthwhile, ‘‘I’m ready,’’ Darvish said even before he made his spring debut.
‘‘He looked phenomenal,’’ Ross said of Darvish’s performance Saturday. ‘‘His stuff is right on par with how he ended [last] season. I heard he told [writers] something about how he was trying to throw 100 and only got to 98?’’
He did say that.
‘‘Let’s just take it easy,’’ Ross said. ‘‘We’re still in February.’’
Lester is a safe, reliable choice for the opener, a veteran of eight Opening Day starts, including four with the Cubs.
But for potential tone-setters, the Cubs have no one in their rotation who comes close to what Darvish has brought to the mound since camp opened, if not since early July. And Darvish never has looked more at ease and confident with the Cubs.
Despite knowing he’s going to face the Brewers in his first start of the season either way, Darvish never considered holding anything back during a meaningless spring game, saying that he has been throwing his power curveball for nine years in the big leagues and that nobody has hit it well yet.
‘‘So I can throw that anytime I want,’’ he said.
Darvish said he’s able to throw his fastball for strikes like he never has in his big-league career because of better ‘‘spin efficiency’’ that provides more late life and, consequently, more swings and misses, confidence and command.
Consider that he had 49 walks in 97 innings before the All-Star break last season and seven in 81 2/3 innings after it. His strikeout rate jumped in the second half, too.
No wonder he seems to be having so much fun, whether on social media or with the baseball media, even joking he worries people might think he took supplements in the offseason because of his velocity.
‘‘If you can throw strikes anytime, you’ll have more fun,’’ Darvish said.
So is he still ready for his second career opener if he gets the call?
‘‘I’m ready for Game 3,’’ Darvish deadpanned.
‘‘Good,’’ Ross said. ‘‘We’ve talked. We’ve lined him up. I don’t know about for that third game. . . .’’