Darvish strong in spring debut after 1st-pitch HR


MESA, Ariz. — Yu Darvish‘s spring training debut Saturday began exactly the way he predicted.

First pitch, home run.

Orlando Arcia connected right away, launching a drive over the fence in left-center field, prompting the Chicago Cubs right-hander to rapidly snap his glove open and closed, imploring the plate umpire to give him another ball.

“I knew that he was going to swing, and also this is first game, so I want to throw a fastball, a get-me-over fastball for a strike,” Darvish said. “So I was thinking last night if Arcia is the leading [off], he’s going to hit the homer. So it happened.”

Darvish wound up going two innings against Milwaukee, allowing only one more hit while striking out three. He touched 98 mph with his fastball and mixed in five other pitches.

While Darvish, 33, aims to allow fewer home runs this season, he believes he’s ahead of schedule in his preparation to replicate his exceptional 2019 second half, which featured a 2.76 ERA, including 118 strikeouts in his last 13 starts.

After Arcia’s homer, Darvish threw a pair of high-90s fastballs that yielded swing-and-misses and induced a fly out by Keston Hiura and a strikeout of Avisail Garcia, then prevailed in an impressive matchup against left-handed hitter Logan Morrison. Darvish set Morrison up with a 98 mph fastball that just missed to make the count 2-2, and then fooled him with an 82 mph curve that Morrison whiffed on, ending the inning.

“I tried to throw 100; I tried to hit 100, but only 98,” Darvish said, smiling.

The timing of Saturday’s start for the four-time All-Star would put him on track for Opening Day against the Brewers in Milwaukee on March 26, although new Cubs manager David Ross has not announced who will start the game.

Darvish, who joked that he is the No. 3 starter, said he is more confident in his fastball.

“I was throwing hard last year, but my spin efficiency is not good enough,” he said. “That’s why hitters don’t swing and miss. But this year I feel different; that’s why there are more swing-and-misses.”

Matter of factly, Darvish said he can command his fastball for strikes now, as opposed to his first eight years in MLB, with Texas, the Dodgers and, since 2018, with the Cubs after he signed a six-year $126 million contract.

“I can throw strikes any time,” he said. “The last eight years I struggled.”

A student of the game who has embraced the tracking of spin rate, Darvish said he wasn’t concerned about showing his arsenal of pitches to the National League Central rivals, as he threw his fastball, hard cutter, cutter, slider, knuckle-curveball, and two-seamer.

Darvish said he would have enjoyed matching up against star Christian Yelich, who was not in the Brewers’ lineup.

“Any time I really want to face him,” Darvish said. “He’s the best hitter in MLB, so I am looking to face him in the opening series.”

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