MESA, Ariz. – What a difference 125 days makes.
The last time Yu Darvish walked off the mound prior to Tuesday, he retired just five Astros during Game 7 of the World Series, capping his short but turbulent stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Since then, he’s lost 15 pounds (Darvish jokingly blamed Game 7), returned to North Texas to work out with his “throwing partner” Clayton Kershaw, and signed a $126 million contract with the Chicago Cubs during an unusually slow offseason for free agents.
One thing remains the same, however.
The questions surrounding Darvish possibly tipping his pitches, allowing Houston to jump out to a quick 5-0 lead and eventual World Series title last November.
“Obviously the Astros … they’re a great, strong team, so I don’t really know to be honest if they knew my pitches,” Darvish said Tuesday via an interpreter.
An unnamed Astros player explained to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci that the team knew what Darvish was going to throw based on the way he brought the ball into his glove.
It would explain Darvish allowing nine runs in just 3 1/3 innings against the Astros, but it didn’t stop the Cubs from opening up their checkbook and slotting him in a starting rotation alongside Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.
“Everyone is happy here,” Darvish said on his new surroundings. “I certainly feel comfortable.”
He didn’t look all that comfortable on the mound going against the Dodgers – the team that acquired the ex-Texas ace at last year’s trade deadline with the hope that he could be Kershaw’s postseason insurance policy.
Darvish labored through a roller coaster first inning. He managed to offset two walks and two wild pitches by striking out the side – Corey Seager, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig – thanks to his fastball that was consistently sitting at 95 mph.
“After the first three batters, I was able to command my fastball,” Darvish said.
Following an unusually long half-inning as his new club torched Los Angeles starter Wilmer Font for six runs, Darvish settled down and retired the side in order. Known for his extensive pitching repertoire, Darvish had four pitches on display in Chicago’s 9-5 victory – fastball, curveball, slider and the changeup. He finished his afternoon striking out four.
“Obviously it’s the first time to face batters over at the stadium, so I’m a little scared, but that’s how I feel every season,” Darvish said.
Despite the change of scenery and shade of blue on his back, it appears Darvish will have to continue answering questions about that one start on an unusually cool November night until he’s presented with the opportunity to redeem himself on baseball’s biggest stage. With this Cubs roster, that day could come sooner than later.
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