Kickstart? Jon Lester nears return as Yu Darvish struggles in Cubs loss

In between innings of a frustrating start Saturday, right-hander Yu Darvish sat next to teammate Anthony Rizzo in the Cubs’ dugout.

He turned toward the first baseman and asked what he was doing wrong and how to fix it, Darvish told Japanese media after the game.

“You have to get hungry,” Rizzo said.

At which point, Darvish took the mound in the fifth inning and retired the side, including striking out the last two batters he faced.

Whether Rizzo’s advice sticks with Darvish for the rest of the season is uncertain. But it at least did enough to help Darvish close out his final inning of his start in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss to the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field.

Darvish’s 13th start as a Cub was just another dip on the roller coaster for a big-money pitcher, who’s admitted over the years that he often overthinks while on the mound.

“I feel like his confidence is something he’s going to have to keep building on for himself and every game is different,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “Today, I guess you could say was a step back or whatever. The last start was pretty good and the next start I know he’s going to come out and try to be hungry again.”

On a day that began with the most optimistic news yet for the return of ace Jon Lester, the Cubs lost for the first time since Sunday, snapping their four-game winning streak and a steak of three consecutive scoreless starts. The last starter to give up a run was Darvish on Monday in a win over the Marlins.

Darvish gave up back-to-back home runs in the first inning and then threw eight-straight balls to start the second. That’s the kind of day it was for an 88-pitch outing that got better over the last three innings.

“My first couple of innings, I was struggling with command,” Darvish said. “I have to be more aggressive with hitters … The fifth inning was really good, so it’s great for next start.”

Darvish’s flat outing happened just hours after the Cubs received good news for the rotation.

Lester, who has been sidelined since the Cubs’ home opener April 8 with a tight left hamstring, threw 45 pitches in a simulated game at Wrigley Field Saturday morning. Manager Joe Maddon said the throwing session was “encouraging” and he thought Lester looked “really good.”

The Cubs next step with Lester is to see how he feels Sunday. And though the Cubs haven’t set his timeline yet, Maddon didn’t rule out Lester for the Dodgers’ series next week.

The Cubs’ rotation has shown signs of improvement without Lester. Since the left-hander went down, the starters are pitching deeper into games and own a combined 1.89 ERA in the Cubs’ last nine starts.

“They’ve gotten really sharp,” Maddon said. “It’s what they’re capable of. Maybe you just have to get kicked in the pants a little bit … This is what we could look like as a pitching staff.”

For the Cubs to sustain this even with Lester’s return, it likely must include a more consistent Darvish.

“When I go there, I can get more confident,” said Darvish, who still hasn’t made it out beyond the sixth inning this season on the heels of his worst career in 2018. “So I want to throw six or seven innings.”

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