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Sports Saturday

Yu-nicorn: Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish adds devastating new breaking ball — between starts

The Cubs pitcher had no trouble with the curve that teammate Craig Kimbrel showed him barely a week ago, giving him three different kinds of curveballs in a repertoire of more than 10 pitches.

Chicago Cubs v New York Mets
Yu Darvish added a new pitch in just one week to an already impressive repertoire.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

NEW YORK – It took maybe a week. Eight days, tops.

“That doesn’t happen,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Doesn’t happen.”

If local sports pundits thought it was hard to keep up with Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish in Twitter wars over pitch selection in the past, they might as well delete their accounts after seeing what Darvish did to beat the Mets on Tuesday.

It showed up in occasional flashes during his Cubs-career-high eight innings, in particular in a pitch that dove sharply away from Jeff McNeil’s bat for one of his seven strikeouts.

“That guy’s amazing. He can do anything he wants,” said Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel, who barely a week earlier showed Darvish the grip he uses on the knuckle curveball Darvish unveiled in spots against the Mets.

Darvish might be the most frustrating pitcher in the game for how little he gets in overall results for some of the best pitching talent on the planet.

But sometimes that talent can drop jaws as much as Darvish dropped that knuckle curve out of McNeil’s sight on that swing Tuesday.

“My last game [Aug. 21], right before the game, in the bullpen session, I tried the hard cure ball, which Kimbrel taught me a week ago, and I felt good,” Darvish said. “That’s why I used it.”

That’s unheard of. At least the part about commanding it in a game so quickly.

“I don’t know anybody that’s ever done that,” Maddon said.

Depending on how you break them down, that brings Darvish’s total number of pitches he commands to 10 or 11 that he can use effectively in a game. Including three versions of a curveball – the latest being the hardest of the three (slider velocity with curve break).

“That’s on him,” said Kimbrel, who has occasionally showed the grip to other teammates in recent years. “He’s a special guy. He’s unbelievably talented and puts the ball wherever he wants. He makes pitches up.”

Whether that becomes a (not-so) secret weapon for the Cubs during the critical final stretch, it definitely looked like a weapon that Darvish plans to keep using.

“We walked up to him the other day,” Kimbrel said, “and he said, ‘I’ve been working on that.’ I was like, ‘cool.’ I didn’t know he was going to throw it [in a game].”

How long did it take the teacher to get comfortable enough with it for game use?

“A long time.”

DID YOU KNOW

  • Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is one of only four players in the majors who have hit at least 25 home runs each of the past six seasons. The others: Mike Trout, Edwin Encarnacion and Nelson Cruz. Rizzo is the only left-handed hitter to do it.
  • When Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish on Aug. 27 said “[Dave] Kaplan makes sense” he became the only active professional player for any Chicago sports franchise since at least 1960 to say that about the city’s relentless talking head (source: Sun-Times Stats and Info)

THAT’S WHAT HE SAID

“We brought our white jerseys on the road with us last time, and it worked for about a game. … I don’t have great answers for you on that one. And if you find one please let me know. Contact me through Peter Chase.” – Team president Theo Epstein, to a New York writer, on Cubs’ road woes much of season.

“I’ve always believed in myself and always trusted my ability. But it’s not on our time.” – Mariners designated hitter Dan Vogelbach, a former Cubs’ second-round pick, on a breakout season that includes 28 homers and an All-Star selection as the M’s play at Wrigley Field Monday and Tuesday.

“From my understanding, his facts were more accurate than the other’s were. So bully for Yu.” – Cubs manager Joe Maddon on Darvish’s victorious Twitter debate with Kaplan over pitch selection.

HIDDEN FIGURES

6 – Defensive positions Ian Happ played in his first 28 games since his July 26 recall from Iowa (all but pitcher, catcher and shortstop).

143 – Consecutive batters faced without allowing a walk from July 23 until Tuesday’s fifth inning for Darvish.

2 – Walks Darvish drew between those he allowed on July 23 and Tuesday.

$9.75 – Price of “Quintana’s Pepperoni Pizza” at Wrigley Field’s Giordano’s vendors near sections 103 and 129 during Jose Quintana’s start Friday. He improved to 8-1 with a 3.08 ERA since “ordering” a pizza on the bullpen phone in Cincinnati on June 28.