If there were any lingering doubts about Yu Darvish being the best starting pitcher in the National League, they were emphatically put to rest Saturday.
In a battle of NL Cy Young contenders in the first game of a doubleheader, Darvish went toe-to-toe with Reds ace Trevor Bauer and came out on top as the Cubs beat Cincinnati 3-0.
“He’s just at a point where he’s really comfortable in who he is,” manager David Ross said. “When you get to a certain point, things start to line up — your smarts catch up or your mind catches up with what you can do. I think he’s just at a really good place with all those.”
Darvish didn’t dominate like he had in his previous six outings. He had to battle to get through six innings on a hot and humid day in Cincinnati.
The Reds made Darvish work by putting runners on base in every inning except the first. He was able to get himself out of jams with the help of two double plays and a few huge strikeouts to kill would-be rallies.
In the sixth inning with a 3-0 lead, Darvish allowed a leadoff single to Shogo Akiyama before getting Tucker Barnhart to bounce into a double play. Darvish put a final exclamation point on his outing by blowing a 97 mph fastball by Mark Payton to end the inning.
“It was big, for sure,” Darvish said of his sixth consecutive victory. “[Bauer] has been amazing this year.
‘‘I was thinking before the game, ‘I can’t give them more than two runs.’ ”
Darvish lowered his ERA to 1.47 and his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) to 2.04. He allowed seven hits, struck out eight and walked two.
“I’m watching TV after I pitch, and I can tell my stuff is sharper than last year, especially the fastball,” Darvish said. “It’s coming out really good.”
Cautious with Bryant’s wrist
Third baseman Kris Bryant has started to take at-bats against live pitching.
He was put on the 10-day injured list Aug. 22 with a sprained left ring finger and sore left wrist.
Bryant and outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who was put on the IL on Aug. 18 with a strained right hamstring, have been ramping up their activity.
Both took five at-bats at alternate site South Bend on Friday and returned to Wrigley Field for a lighter day of work Saturday.
The Cubs will continue to be cautious with Bryant as the wrist begins to improve.
“Today, he has a lighter day at Wrigley, where he’s gonna take some swings,’’ Ross said. ‘‘Every day, we’re kind of adjusting and kind of listening to him and seeing how things are going. He’s on the right path.
‘‘[We’ll] continue to try to get him at-bats as much as we can up until he feels like he’s ready to come off [the injured list] or we all feel that he’s ready to come off.”