‘Nerves’ and strikeouts for Yu Darvish in heralded Cubs debut against old pals
MESA, Ariz. — On the day he was introduced as the Cubs’ new star pitcher, Yu Darvish said he told Dodgers manager Dave Roberts he planned to beat his former team this season.
But as soon as the comments were publicized, Darvish suggested on social media that something might have been lost in the translation when his interpreter relayed the anecdote.
“It wasn’t lost in translation,” Roberts said, smiling. “We talked on the phone. He said he was going to beat us.”
Get out the “Mission Accomplished” banner.
Darvish threw an array of four pitches for strikes — eventually — during a heralded Cubs spring debut that turned into a 9-5 victory over Darvish’s former team at Sloan Park.
Lost in translation?
“I meant I’m only going to beat them in spring training,” said Darvish, who appeared to deadpan through his interpreter after his outing Tuesday.
Now he just has to do it again in June. And maybe in October.
Despite early nerves, Darvish was impressive enough, flashing a 95 mph fastball and effective off-speed stuff in a debut delayed five days by a flu bug.
“Just a little bit of nerves,” said Darvish, who added that he just hoped not to hit any of his old Dodgers teammates with a pitch. “Obviously, it’s the first time facing batters over at the stadium, so I was a little scared, but that’s how I feel [the first start] every season.
“I’m excited for what’s ahead this season.”
That’s the idea, say teammates, who sensed a 2016 vibe to camp and this year’s expectations from the moment Darvish’s six-year deal was completed in the final days before camp opened last month.
“He can take a hitter that thinks he’s hot and make him not very quickly,” Ben Zobrist said. “He just adds fear to an offensive lineup. If not fear, it’s a whole lot of ‘uncomfortability’ up there.
“He can throw five different pitches in different counts, in different locations. I can see him creating a lot of havoc in offensive approaches for other teams.”
Said Kris Bryant: “I’m glad I don’t have to face him. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Maybe it was indeed nerves early, but Darvish opened his Cubs career with a five-pitch walk to Chris Taylor, who then took second on a wild pitch. After Darvish struck out Corey Seager on a 95 mph high fastball, Taylor stole third, eventually scoring on another wild pitch.
But Darvish retired his final five batters after that, including seven consecutive strikes to fan Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to end the first.
“After the first three batters, I think I was able to command my fastball, slider and curve,” said Darvish, who also was happy with his velocity after worrying he might have lost a tick when he lost 15 pounds over the winter.
Why the extreme weight loss for the slender pitcher?
“Because of what happened in the World Series,” said Darvish, who had two terrible starts in losses to the Astros as the Dodgers lost the series in seven games.
It was reported after the series that he was tipping his pitches. He said he tried some changes while throwing in the offseason to better conceal his pitches, but he wasn’t sure that was the reason for the problems.
“They just could simply be a strong team,” Darvish said of the Astros. “And I think part of it’s me not being at the top of my [game] in the World Series.”
He expects another chance this year. And, no doubt, another date with the Dodgers when it counts most.
“We had a great conversation,” Roberts said. “I wished him well. And I reciprocated what he said. I feel the same way.”
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