Darvish's slow approach fuels 11-strikeout night

CINCINNATI -- The commissioner's office might not like it, but Chicago Cubs fans won't be complaining if enigmatic righty Yu Darvish wants to take his time on the mound.

As long as the results look like they did Wednesday -- Darvish struck out 11 without issuing a walk against the Cincinnati Reds -- he can pretty much do whatever he wants.

"I'm a slow guy," Darvish said after the Cubs' 6-5, 10-inning loss. "I'm always slow, especially my first three-to-four years. I told [pitching coach] Tommy [Hottovoy] yesterday, I want to go slower. That's why I was taking my time. That makes me more comfortable."

It would not be an exaggeration to say Darvish looked as good as he has in years, even if he lasted only 5 1/3 innings. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Darvish hasn't had 11 strikeouts without issuing a free pass since August 2013. But there's more.

  • His first strike percentage was 67, his highest this season and second-highest as a Cub. In his career, the opposition has a slash line of .177/.219/.277 when Darvish throws strike one.

  • He earned 26 called strikes, the most in a game for him since 2014.

  • He threw 37 percent cutters, his highest percentage in a start since joining the Cubs. Ten of his called strikes came on his cutter, tying the most in his career.

  • He took seven hitters to a 3-ball count but retired all of them, including five via strikeout.

  • He had six strikeouts looking, the most in a game in his career.

Two of Darvish's called third strikes came at the expense of Joey Votto. The Reds star looked as uncomfortable at the plate against the Cubs righty as you'll see from the All-Star. Between the strikeouts, Darvish got Votto on a check-swing popup.

"He's the best hitter in the lineup, so if he struggles, that means I'm good," Darvish said.

The Cubs have basically thrown out the script for Darvish. They don't care about tempo or anything else if it doesn't make him comfortable. If one pitch is on, then that's the one he'll lean on. Usually it's his slider, but not on Wednesday.

"I felt good about my cutter," Darvish said. "That's why I threw it a lot."

His catcher illustrated the "whatever it takes" attitude the Cubs and Darvish are employing.

"I know the tempo was a little slow, but I don't care," Taylor Davis said. "He was getting guys out. He was making quality pitches ... The pressure situations he was able to handle a lot better.

"I'm taking this as a win for the Cubs. A win for Yu."

However, the Cubs actually came up short after the bullpen blew a lead.

Darvish's next start won't be any easier. He'll face former Cub Jake Arrieta and the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday at Wrigley Field.

"He's a legend in Chicago, for sure," Darvish said of Arrieta. "I respect that, and I'm really looking forward to facing him."

Darvish replaced Arrieta in the Cubs' rotation after signing a six-year, $126 million contract before 2018. Arrieta settled with the Phillies for three years and $75 million. The two have been linked ever since. Darvish would like nothing more than to repeat his performance against the Reds -- but in front of Cubs fans.

"I think I need it at Wrigley," he said. "That's what I want. I always struggle [at home]. I need this start at Wrigley."

Asked what he thought of facing Arrieta at the plate, Darvish deadpanned: "I need a base hit off him."