DENVER – A week ago it was a balk. Saturday night it was a two-out walk to the pitcher. Three weeks ago in Miami it apparently had something to do with the humidity and a hand cramp that wasn’t.
The only thing certain four starts into Yu Darvish’s $126 million deal is that he has more excuses than five-inning starts – or wins – to show for the early weeks of his Cubs career.
And even his second-year catcher had issues with how he handled Saturday’s adversity when he allowed a 2-0 lead to quickly disintegrate into a 5-2 loss in his first career start at Coors Field.
“I think he looked like he got too comfortable once he got two outs,” catcher Willson Contreras said of the two-out, five-pitch walk to pitcher Tyler Anderson that was followed by four hits and a walk in a five-run inning.
“He walked [Mike Tauchman with one out], and then the fake bunt [by Anderson] I think messed around with Darvish in his head,” Contreras said. “It looks like he got too comfortable when he got the second out. In the big leagues, no matter how many outs there are, you have to keep attacking the hitters.
“I hope we learn from that.”
Darvish (0-2, 6.86 ERA) acknowledged he has a fifth-inning problem so far, but disputed Contreras’ take.
“He told me the same thing during the game,” Darvish said in Japanese, through his interpreter, after a deep sigh upon hearing the question. “But I don’t think so. I treat every pitch and every batter as the same regardless of how many outs I have.”
He still has five years plus another 28 or so starts to make stronger impressions and maybe a few more All-Star teams.
But for now, the first impression in Chicago is that he pitches like a sweater with a loose thread. He looks great until something snags, and then everything unravels fast.
It’s a reputation he battled in five-plus years in Texas, and that was reiterated by a major-league scout watching him Saturday.
Impressions of Darvish so far this season?
“Same as I’ve seen before,” the scout said. “Great stuff. But gets in trouble when something starts to go wrong.”
On this night, Darvish retired the first seven he faced and 11 of the first 12 before allowing a two-out single in the fourth.
That’s how good his stuff has been this season – the kind of stuff that resulted in his one good, six-inning start in Milwaukee two weeks ago.
But when he fell behind 3-0 to the pitcher with two outs, it came apart like it did a week earlier after a fifth inning balk call.
Manager Joe Maddon didn’t deny that it’s an issue, if not a concern.
“The competing part of it, of course,” he said. “I anticipate, expect, him to pitch more deeply into the games. I’m just getting to know the guy. …”
The game-time temperature of 42 degrees in last week’s start was the coldest in his career; Saturday’s game-time temp was 41. So there’s that.
But in his Cubs debut in Miami, he pitched four strong innings before five of the first six batters in the fifth reached to knock him out of the game – dehydration supposedly a factor in a near-cramp sensation in his hand.
Whatever the causes of Darvish’s early issues, it’s not anything close to what the Cubs believed they were paying for when his market fell into their range during a depressed free agent market.
“It’s something that I have to overcome,” Darvish said. “It’s definitely my problem, something that I have to work on.”
Until then, he might have his catcher in his ear, and maybe on his rear the next time the fifth inning comes around.
Contreras said he noticed the two-out letup in earlier innings on Saturday as well.
“But in the fifth was crucial for us,” Contreras said. “It got us [screwed] up.”