DENVER -- First it was late March, Miami humidity. Two starts later, it was a balk. Then came Saturday, at Coors Field, when Chicago Cubs hurler Yu Darvish walked the opposing pitcher in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Like those previous outings, Darvish fell apart the moment adversity hit. A 2-0 Cubs lead turned into a 5-2 deficit -- and the final score of the game.
"It turns out my command wasn't there," Darvish said afterward through his interpreter. "The rest is the same as my outing from the last game."
Last Friday against the Atlanta Braves, Darvish balked a runner from second to third -- also in the fifth inning -- and never recovered. He didn't finish that inning, nor the fifth on Saturday, after nibbling with Rockies pitcher Tyler Anderson. There were two out with a runner on first. Get the pitcher out and the Cubs are into the sixth inning with the shutout intact. But five pitches later, Anderson was on first, the lineup turned over and the Rockies teed off. Four hits after that, Darvish was done.
"That's something I have to overcome," Darvish said. "It's definitely my problem. Something I have to work on. ... It's the fifth inning I get out of rhythm. I think that can be solved by using more off-speed pitches."
Darvish tends to overuse his fastball and slider, but his problems look more about competing then they do about pitch selection. His catcher practically admitted as much.
"To me, it looks like he got too comfortable when he [gets] the second out," Willson Contreras said. "In the big leagues, no matter how many outs there are, you have to keep attacking the hitters."
Contreras told Darvish as much during the game, but the righty waved that off.
"I don't think so," Darvish said. "I treat every pitch, every batter, the same, regardless of how many outs I have."
Darvish also thought perhaps his fastball velocity was down due to the cold weather -- a reminder of his issues in his Cubs debut March 31 in Miami. On a very slightly humid night, Darvish thought he might have cramped, but then dismissed that notion, only to implode again in -- you guessed it -- the fifth inning. That's three out of four starts in which he has failed to complete five innings.
"I expect him to pitch more deeply into games," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I wanted to give him a chance to pitch through that [the jam in the fifth], but the command escaped him. Command of his fastball was not what it needs to be."
Darvish did throw one gem in a Cubs uniform, against the Milwaukee Brewers, in his second start of the season. But with a six-year, $126 million contract in hand, one quality start out of four isn't going to cut it. And there will be many Cubs fans comparing him to the one that got away.
Just two days before Darvish's latest loss, former Cubs great Jake Arrieta, now with the Philadelphia Phillies, was mowing down the Pittsburgh Pirates, striking out 10 while giving up just one hit in seven shutout innings. And Arrieta missed most of spring training.
But the focus should mostly be on Darvish, because there's no going back now. His ERA ballooned to 6.86 after his meltdown at Coors Field ... which came after a meltdown at Wrigley Field exactly a week earlier. Are you seeing the pattern? Baseball games rarely go smoothly. If Darvish doesn't learn to fight through those tough moments, it's going to be a long six years, just as it’s been a few long fifth innings so far in a Cubs uniform. Just ask his catcher.
"In the fifth, it was crucial for us," Contreras said. "It got us f---ed up."