Although Cubs president Theo Epstein suggested last month that the team can’t rely on the injured Yu Darvish to finish 2018 on a high note, it appears the right-hander will factor in for Chicago in the coming months as it pursues another World Series title. Darvish, who has been out for over two months with triceps and elbow issues, threw a 55-pitch side session Saturday and then took an optimistic tone when speaking with Bruce Levine of 670 The Score and other reporters.
“Yeah, certainly [this is the best I’ve felt]. I think all my pitches, velocity-wise were up there at the highest and then I was able to follow through with my arm motion,” Darvish said through an interpreter.
Darvish went on to reveal that he dealt with “pain and discomfort” until “about 10 days ago,” when he “switched from treating the elbow to the spine,” continuing: “That triggered a more positive flow. Everything in this whole process is better from the beginning until the end.”
As Levine notes, Darvish wasn’t referring to a new injury to his back or spine. Rather, Levine writes that the hurler “was talking about using more of his whole body in his delivery.”
Now, barring a setback, Darvish could be within three or four days from throwing a simulated game, per Levine. It’s unclear how long it would take Darvish to return to the Cubs thereafter, though it’s not a slam dunk that he will. After all, Darvish already seemed to be on the comeback trail several weeks ago, only to suffer a setback in late June. The 31-year-old hasn’t taken the ball for the Cubs since May 20, when he made one of his best starts with the team. During that game, a win over the Reds, Darvish logged six innings of one-run, two-hit ball, struck out seven and issued three walks.
Starts like the one Darvish posted against the Reds have been atypical this season for him, which wasn’t what he or the Cubs expected when the two sides agreed to a six-year, $126MM guarantee in February. At that point, Darvish was an established star who had stood out with the Rangers and Dodgers. But in his first action with the Cubs, Darvish has endured two DL stints (including one for the flu) and posted a career-worst ERA/FIP/xFIP (4.95/4.87/4.24) over 40 innings and eight starts. He has also issued a personal-high 4.73 walks per nine, somewhat offsetting a typically outstanding strikeout rate (11.03 K/9).
Thanks in part to Darvish’s lack of availability so far, the Cubs made an attempt to bolster their rotation prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline by acquiring one of his former Rangers teammates, left-hander Cole Hamels. Like Darvish, Hamels hasn’t been anywhere close to his best this season. However, he did show well in his Cubs debut in a win over the division-rival Pirates this past Wednesday.
Including Hamels’ victory, the Cubs have registered a 64-46 record, giving the back-to-back NL Central champions a 1 1/2-game lead over the Brewers in the division. Some of the Cubs’ success has come on account of lefty swingman Mike Montgomery, who has offered respectable production in Darvish’s absence and relegated another struggling offseason signing, righty Tyler Chatwood, to a bullpen role. Should Darvish return, he’d presumably join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Hamels in the Cubs’ rotation, which means Montgomery would work in relief if the club sticks with a five-man starting staff.