Yu Darvish seems like a different pitcher in his second season with the Cubs, and for good reason. Not only is he healthy and touching mid-90’s with the fastball already, but he is clearly more at ease with the media and the situation in general. He’s even admitted he feels more like himself, which includes forgoing the interpreter he had used throughout 2018.
“I think, you know, interpreter is expensive for the organization,” Darvish joked Tuesday ($) with Sahadev Sharma and other beat writers. “That’s why.”
The real reason for the change is that Darvish, who many saw as aloof and distant, wanted to remove any barrier between himself and the media. And because the media acts as a de facto interpreter between players and fans, this is a way for the righty to be a little more personable with the folks cheering him on every fifth day.
“You guys understand what I’m thinking from my mouth, not with an interpreter,” Darvish said. “That means a lot to me.”
Perhaps as much as anything he’s done to prepare himself for the season physically, this psychological shift — even if it’s just perceived — should aid Darvish. His first outing was one of those typical early spring efforts in which you had to poke around a little to find new growth among the dead husks of the box score.
Which is to say it’s not easy to convince everyone that issuing as many walks (4) as he recorded outs is not nearly as important as flashing good velocity and being able to joke around afterwards. Darvish admitted that it felt “like my first outing in my life,” so the adrenaline may have messed with his command of the breaking ball.
That, and this was the first time he’d faced live hitters since a rehab outing in South Bend last season. As both temperatures and comfort level rise, we should start to get more looks at the real Darvish both on and off the mound.
One player we didn’t see more of Tuesday was Jason Heyward, who was scratched from the lineup for “personal reasons.” As we saw with Ben Zobrist a little over a week ago, the absence naturally led to speculation. It doesn’t help that both players have been the subjects of various trade rumors, with Heyward in particular representing enough of a salary shift to open the door to other moves.
Add that to the savings the Cubs are getting from ditching Darvish’s interpreter and a big trade would give them more than enough to sign…well, someone. But there’s really only one player for whom swinging a monster trade to clear space would make any sense. And wouldn’t you know it, he might actually want to play on the North Side of Chicago.
For what it’s worth, my source who is close to Bryce Harper tells me #Dodgers and #Cubs were 1st choices all along and he prefers not to sign with #Phillies. I’ve been hearing all winter that Harper does not want to play for Gabe Kapler due to analytics and quirky personality
— Randy Miller (@RandyJMiller) February 26, 2019
Of course, the idea that Bryce Harper prefers Chicago is nothing new. He’s spoke about his love of deep-dish pizza and the list of his ties to the city is at least two or three items long. Not to mention Cubs Insider had a report back in early December about Harper wanting to play for the Cubs. But as we know, they have neither room nor money for such an addition.
And before I get too far along here, it also needs to be mentioned that there’s been nothing at all to indicate that Heyward’s absence was anything other than what was reported. These spring games aren’t exactly high-pressure, especially for a tenured veteran, so missing a couple innings of action isn’t a big deal at all.
The other aspect of all this is that we’re talking about some serious gamesmanship as Harper’s courtship grinds along toward its eventual conclusion. Scott Boras is apparently drawing inspiration from every Hallmark movie ever, presenting Harper as the female protagonist engaged to a man who is clearly wrong for her. The Phillies are that man, but none of timing and circumstance seem to be keeping more acceptable suitors from stepping forward.
If only there was a team that had massive revenues and a desire to field the best possible product during the next three years of what appears to be a wide-open competitive window. Darn the screenwriter for not conjuring up such a team. No matter how this movie ends, there are going to be a lot of angry viewers as the credits roll.
And while I want no part of the Dodgers somehow fitting Harper in, I must admit that I’d draw a not-insignificant amount of sadistic glee over the inevitable molten implosion of Phillies fans. Not that I harbor them any ill will, they’ve just worked themselves into such a lather that the resultant reaction would be comically exaggerated.
The best part about this movie ending is that everyone can get back to focusing on the present, maybe even the future. For the Cubs, that could mean an extension for Kris Bryant, who recently admitted his openness to the right deal. You have to figure that not signing Harper and having Nolan Arenado off the board heavily increases the Cubs’ desire to get something done long-term with Bryant.
Or so I hope.