Darvish wows Maddon, Cubs with his pitching presence
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MESA, Ariz. -- Yu Darvish drew a crowd Tuesday.
Cubs fans gathered outside the backstop on one of the practice fields as Darvish got ready to throw live batting practice. The team brass was there, too, and when Darvish sent a low strike whistling past Kyle Schwarber, manager Joe Maddon passed by a couple reporters and gave a whistle of his own.
And, of course, the Japanese media were out in full force.
The scene was reminiscent of Cubs spring training 10 years ago, when the Cubs signed Japanese right fielder Kosuke Fukudome. Media from that country descended on Cubs camp, and the Daily Herald published a daily postcard item called "Fukudomania."
"Is it really that long?" asked Ryan Dempster, who was a Cubs pitcher in 2008 and now works in the team's front office. "Wow. Obviously it was a pretty big deal and he was a pretty accomplished hitter in Japan. So it was a little different situation, especially Fukie being a position player. Yu has been over here awhile now and kind of gone through that media attention you garner, especially being a Japanese ballplayer who comes over.
"A little bit different. But I just remember from spring training to that magical moment on Opening Day (when Fukudome hit a game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth) and everything that came with it. I enjoyed Fukie as a teammate. He was awesome. I'm excited to have Yu here."
The Cubs signed Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal right before spring training started. Darvish starred with the Texas Rangers from 2012 until the middle of last season, when he was traded to the Dodgers.
There is a new buzz in Cubs camp, but Darvish jokingly downplayed that Tuesday.
"If you look at my first two years in the big leagues, you saw like 100 Japanese media," he said through a translator. "You look at it now, and we only have five out there. So I think we're all good."
Darvish's presence has made the Cubs' rotation all good, as he joins Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood as the starting five. It was only live batting practice Tuesday, but Darvish had heads turning.
"February 20, wow," said Maddon. "That was my thought. Honestly, they (the pitchers) all looked really good, but my impression from the side as an opponent has always been that when he's really on, he's got this low fastball that has great carry. I walk up, and that's all they're talking about. So obviously, he's feeling pretty good about himself. He looks really lean out there. His delivery looks clean. The ball was definitely coming out of his hand well.
"I know it's early. I'm certain his adrenaline was flowing a little bit right there, but he threw the ball great -- great with great conviction."
Although Schwarber didn't swing against Darvish, their meeting was a "rematch" of sorts from last fall, when Schwarber homered off Darvish in the National League championship series.
"It definitely reminded me of the NLCS," Darvish said. "He didn't swing, so I hope to face him again soon in practice games. If he swung at it, it would probably go over the fence."
After Darvish was done, Dempster gave his scouting report. Dempster was a teammate of Darvish's for part of the 2012 season, when the Cubs traded him to the Rangers.
"He's just got so many pitches that he can beat you with," Dempster said. "Sometimes when you're a starting pitcher you always want to have fastball command. When you don't have that, you go to something else. For some guys, that might be only one other pitch. For him, he's got multiple weapons that he can attack with. He can move the ball. He's a stud, man, he really is. You look at what he's done over his career when he's healthy, he's always capable of going out there and throwing a no-hitter or striking out 15 guys -- a dominant force that will fit in nicely in the rotation."
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