MESA, Arizona — Where are all of you who thought Yu Darvish was going to have a terrible season because he walked four batters in his first spring outing?
I thought so. Crickets. Remember, this is a process, and the results of that first outing are virtually menaingless. Darvish had been on a mound for an actual game only twice since last May (two rehab starts) when he walked those four men last Monday.
In this start, his second of the spring, he looked really sharp. He walked one, but struck out three in two scoreless innings. I’m pretty sure the Cubs had intended for him to go three innings, but their eight-run second went so long that during it, Darvish went to the bullpen and threw about 15 pitches, which sufficed for his third inning of work. Now, this outing isn’t the be-all and end-all for Darvish, but I thought he looked solid.
My feeling? Darvish will be just fine. Here’s his bullpen warmup [VIDEO].
Yu Darvish warmupPosted by Bleed Cubbie Blue on Sunday, March 3, 2019
Prior to that warmup, I watched Darvish on the field during his stretching and long toss. He seemed very comfortable around his teammates and the coaches, smiling and laughing. That’s a good thing.
That eight-run inning was a beat-down of three different White Sox pitchers. Manny Banuelos walked four in the first producing a run, then when he hit the second batter he faced in the second, Rick Renteria pulled him and that’s when the fun began. Ten straight Cubs reached base off Banuelos, Juan Minaya and Aaron Bummer and eight of them scored, the biggest blow a monster three-run homer by Kris Bryant. Later in the inning, Ian Happ smashed a ground-rule double into the seats in right and the rout was on. The Cubs led 9-0 after two and crushed the White Sox 13-4.
Cubs relievers did reasonably well, though two of them (Tony Barnette and Dillon Maples) were touched up for home runs, Jose Abreu off Barnette and Adam Engel off Maples. The Engel home run came after Maples made a nice stop on a comebacker by Yolmer Sanchez and attempted to start a double play. The relay by Addison Russell was just a smidge late, so Sanchez was safe. Otherwise the inning would have ended before Engel batted.
Junichi Tazawa, who pitched quite a few years for Theo Epstein’s Red Sox teams and was on their World Series champion team in 2013, threw a solid 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts, against the White Sox starting lineup. Tazawa, who had a pretty bad year in 2018, is 32 and a long shot to make this bullpen. But if he can keep throwing like that, there might be a place for him on the Iowa Shuttle.
This was my first chance to see Dakota Mekkes pitch in person and he did not disappoint. His velocity touches only 91, tops, but he’s got some really nice breaking stuff and he locates exceptionally well. He did issue one walk, but otherwise got through a scoreless inning with a strikeout and two groundouts. Mekkes’ only real issue in the minor leagues has been a fairly high walk rate (4.1 per nine) but he doesn’t give up a lot of hits (5.3 per nine) so if he can cut down on the walks, he could also be a part of this bullpen going forward.
Attendance watch: The Cubs set a Sloan Park, Cactus League and all-time spring training attendance record Sunday with 16,069 announced, the first-ever spring training crowd over 16,000, on a gorgeous afternoon with temps in the mid 70s and a nice breeze blowing out to right field. For six dates the Cubs have now drawn 77,795, or 12,966 per date. The weather has finally turned “spring training beautiful,” with temps possibly reaching into the 80s by mid-week.
Monday, it’s Cole Hamels’ turn, but the Cubs are not going to make him take the long bus ride to Goodyear to face the Reds. Instead, Hamels will throw at the Sloan Park complex in a minor-league game. Mike Montgomery will also make his first spring appearance in that game. Meanwhile, Alec Mills will take on the Reds in a 2:05 p.m. CT game. Tony Santillan will start for the Reds. No TV Monday. There will be a webcast of the game via cubs.com.