MESA, Ariz. – After signing with the Cubs in February, Yu Darvish spoke to Dave Roberts and told his former manager he would beat the Dodgers.
At least that was the story, though sometimes these things are misinterpreted and spread over the internet.
“It wasn’t lost in translation,” Roberts said. “We talked on the phone. He said he was going to beat us. I wished him well and I reciprocated what he said. I feel the same way.”
Darvish wound up facing the Dodgers in his Cubs debut Tuesday at Sloan Park, and overcame a shaky start to strike out four of the eight batters he faced in a 9-5 win.
Was that what Darvish was talking about when he told Roberts he would beat the Dodgers?
“Yeah,” he said through his interpreter. “I meant to say ‘I’m only going to beat them in spring training.’”
It’s going to take a while to get to know Darvish, the newest star in a clubhouse full of players who are now household names.
But one thing seems certain – he has a keen sense of sarcasm, and likes to use it.
“He’s funny, he gets sarcasm,” Darvish’s agent Joel Wolfe said. “He has a head start because he understands every question, so he can think about it when [translator Daichi Sekizaki] is telling him.
“One thing he learned when he first got to Texas, the interpreter was almost a barrier between him and his teammates. When he got to L.A., he noticed one of the other players had an interpreter and he wasn’t as close to his teammates, so he decided he wasn’t going to use an interpreter with his teammates. Only in important meetings with coaches or the front office. That way he can just be one of the guys.”
Being one of the guys in Cubs camp is pretty easy, and Darvish appears to be fitting in well. He handled his first start with flying colors, despite walking two of the first three hitters and throwing two wild pitches, including one that allowed Chris Taylor to score. With two on and one out, he struck out Matt Kemp, then faced Yasiel Puig, who twirled his bat around in the air like a baton when he strode to the plate, already in midseason form when it came to hot-dogging.
Darvish struck Puig out to end the inning, then recorded a perfect second before ending his day.
Afterward he admitted to having “nerves,” and said he didn’t want to hit one of his former teammates. He used four of his six pitches, hitting 95 on the radar gun. He was worried about velocity after saying he lost 15 pounds in the offseason, working out with Clayton Kershaw in Texas.
It was Darvish’s first outing since his forgettable World Series, when he reportedly was tipping his pitches during his two awful starts.
“If you’re in that spot and you have had a rough one your first time out, you want to come back and show ’em you have it,” Cubs reliever Brandon Morrow, a teammate in Los Angeles, said after Tuesday’s game. “Didn’t work out that way.
“I’m sure he has used that as motivation, and that he’s able to pull from 6 great years in the major leagues. Two outings in the World Series are not going to change his mentality.”
Asked about the alleged pitch-tipping, Darvish said he was working on some things this winter to make adjustments, but wasn’t even sure the report was accurate.
“The Astros are a great, strong team, so I don’t know, to be honest, if they knew my pitches,” he said. “I think it’s a part of me not being at the top level in the World Series.”
Darvish is as wry as he appears, according to Cubs catcher Chris Gimenez, who played with him on the Rangers. Gimenez said Darvish is much more comfortable speaking English, which has helped him bond with teammates
“I don’t know how much English he knew in ’14 [in Texas],” Gimenez said. “He spoke a fairly good amount. But I know he has taken a lot of pride in really learning the language, and he’s trying to give a few more interviews in English, and obviously speaking to his teammates in English.
“You kind of see that fun, playful side of him come out. To me, it’s for the best, man. When he’s more relaxed and not worried about whether he’s saying the right thing or what everybody is thinking. … If he’s just out there having fun and making fun of people, it’s good. We all play our best when we’re doing that.
“That’s one thing Joe really emphasizes – just be who you are. Be yourself. That’s ultimately the best place for him.”
Everyone is made fun of at Camp Maddon, from the players to the front office to the media. No one is immune from being mocked.
“It doesn’t matter who you are,” Gimenez said. “You are going to get worn out. And if you understand that going in, it makes it a little easier. You know no one is picking on you. It’s all fun and games, but everyone in here has everyone else’s back.”
Darvish seems to be comfortable with the players and talking to the media. Asked why he lost all the weight, he replied: “Because of what happened in the World Series.”
Again with the sarcasm?