Yu Darvish started out about as poorly as a pitcher can, giving up a home run to Orlando Arcia on his first pitch, but he quickly settled in and unleashed most of his arsenal over two innings of work. The big righty said after the game that he threw a cutter, hard cutter, slider, knuckle curveball, and two-seam in addition to a fastball that touched 98 mph several times.
I counted 14 pitches and 7 swings and misses for Darvish in that inning. Sitting 95, touched 98 twice. I'd say that's good for the last day of February.
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) February 29, 2020
The revelation that he’d thrown six pitches in his spring debut elicited a “Holy crap!” from beat writer Gordon Wittenmyer, but someone else wondered about the wisdom of that strategy. Not Wittenmyer’s exclamation, but showing off all those pitches. After all, Darvish will be facing the Brewers several times throughout the regular season, including a likely Opening Day assignment in Milwaukee less than a month from now. Doesn’t sound like he’s concerned, though.
“Uh, you know, I’m throwing the power curveball in my nine years in here,” Darvish said, “but no one’s hitting good against that pitch so I can throw that any time I want.”
That, my friends, is a man who’s approaching the season with hella confidence. Anyone feel like calling him mentally weak? Yeah, didn’t think so. To be fair, this is a different version of Darvish than the one we saw when he first got to Chicago. Fully healthy and reunited with his favorite pitch, he looks ready to play the role of ace.
The power curve he mentioned hasn’t actually been in his repertoire all along, at least not to the extent that he’d have liked. Darvish leaned heavily on it early in his career with the Rangers, but had to scrap it in the wake of elbow reconstruction. Then he learned the knuckle curve, a pitch that is thrown similar to a four-seamer, and he suddenly had his power hard breaking ball back.
“I used to throw the hard curve, but that was before Tommy John,” Darvish said last September “After that, I struggled with that pitch, my best pitch. Kimbrel taught me the knuckle-curve, and I feel that can be my best pitch.”
After being ambushed by Arcia on his first fastball, Darvish allowed just one more hit while striking out three. And as we saw frequently over the second half of last season, he didn’t walk a single batter. The junior varsity lineup behind him was unable to provide any support, but pitching like this on a regular basis will win Darvish and the Cubs a lot of games.
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) February 29, 2020
Mekkes looks like different pitcher
I’m not ashamed to admit that I didn’t even recognize Dakota Mekkes when I flipped the game on late, but I did a double-take upon realizing who it was. After tipping the scales at around 275 pounds earlier in his career, the big righty appears to have dropped well under a deuce and a half. He told Cubs Insider the weight loss was behind the increased velocity he’s displayed this spring, and it’s clear that he’s more explosive on the mound.
Mekkes struck out two batters without walking any or giving up a hit to maintain a 0.00 ERA over three Cactus League outings. It’s too early to make any proclamations, but the Cubs are going to need to make room for him on the roster if he keeps this up.
Schwarber doubles up
Kyle Schwarber collected two hits and drove in his first two runs of the spring with an RBI double to the gap in left-center. That was exactly the kind of knock he collects when he’s really on his game, staying on outside pitches and driving the ball the other way with authority. After some rough early at-bats, it was good to see Schwarber performing well at the plate.
Bryant’s dad energy
Kris Bryant talked to Marquee about how much he’s looking forward to fatherhood, but he’s basically already a dad in the clubhouse. He has been working to implement a system of fines for mental mistakes and is setting an example for Cubs players and others across MLB. Underestimate this man at your own peril.
The former closer hasn’t pitched since the first half of the 2018 season, but the Cubs bought out his 2020 option and then picked him back up on a minor-league in the hope that he could get healthy. He said he felt good coming into camp, but a chest strain and now a mild calf tear have hampered him already.
At this point, it’s almost a parody and you have to wonder whether Brandon Morrow is actually just a fictional character.