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Cubs see a peaceful, comfortable Yu Darvish ready to help lead starting staff

4 years ago • Tony Andracki

Add another pitch to the Yu Darvish arsenal.

He didn’t simply take the three-and-a-half month shutdown to stay in shape; he also worked on adding and refining a new pitch — a 2-seam splitter (he also throws a more conventional splitter).

That makes roughly 11 pitches now in Darvish’s repertoire, but it’s really more than that because he has so many different variations of all those pitches. He can add more break or depth to his slider or curveball if a situation or a particular opponent calls for it.

Last year, he added a knuckle-curve in the middle of the season after learning it from Craig Kimbrel and the pitch became a major weapon for Darvish in his stellar second half.

With José Quintana set to miss the next couple weeks with a thumb injury, there’s even more of a spotlight on the rest of the rotation as the start of the shortened season approaches later this month.

But the Cubs don’t want Darvish to feel any extra pressure, whether he emerges as the Opening Day starter or not.

“I just want him to be the guy he was the second half of last year,” David Ross said. “Whatever the mentality he needs, he’s been doing it a long time and he’s been a superstar for a really long time. He seems to be in a good place — the ball’s coming out real good. Talking to him, he seems at peace and comfortable in the environment.”

That mindset and attitude was evident in the All-Star Break last season when Darvish went to pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and the Cubs staff and said he wanted the ball for the first game of the second half.

That led to a huge couple months for Darvish, who pitched to a 2.76 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 13 second half starts, striking out 118 against only 7 walks in 81.2 innings.

He came into camp in Arizona this spring trying to carry that same level of confidence over to the season and now — after a three-and-a-half-month shutdown — will attempt the same thing this summer.

“When you have a second half like that, the number one thing you wanna do coming into the original spring training is look similar and be able to do a lot of the things you were doing at the end of the year,” Hottovy said. “This progression it’s kinda like: peaks at the end of the season, let’s see if we can maintain it over the offseason and then carry into the spring training. If we can do that, let’s continue to build.

“Now we hit another lull, let’s try and maintain it. So it’s kinda that step pattern, in my opinion. We’re trying to time it all right and not lose the momentum that we’ve gained over those two periods.”

The Cubs said Darvish was sitting about 94-97 mph with his fastball during Saturday’s scrimmage as he threw about 40 pitches over 2 innings. He also impressed with his breaking ball command, throwing it for strikes when needed and inducing swings and misses.

It was only one outing and obviously the game didn’t count, but it was still good for the Cubs to see Darvish carry that all-important confidence over.

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