Yu Darvish traffics in dry humor. It was one of the qualities that endeared him to the Dodgers clubhouse upon his arrival last summer, and it is part of the reason he remains well liked after the ugliness of his final outing in Los Angeles.
Darvish leaned upon his wryness Tuesday afternoon, minutes after striking out four Dodgers in a two-inning outing at Sloan Park. He stood in the shadow of the Chicago Cubs complex and explained why he lost 15 pounds this offseason.
"Because of the World Series," Darvish said through his interpreter, Daichi Sekizaki. "Because of what happened in the World Series."
Sekizaki chuckled as he delivered the line. Darvish maintained his deadpan. It was a joke — Darvish could hint at the pain he felt after his two disastrous outings against Houston, but only delve so deeply into it.
Tuesday marked Darvish's first Cactus League outing for his new team, after the Cubs signed him to a six-year, $126 million contract last month. The Dodgers maintained contact with Darvish throughout the winter, but chose not to make a comparable offer to avoid the luxury tax. As a result, Darvish joined the team which faced the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series the previous two Octobers.
Darvish pitched into the seventh inning against the Cubs last fall in a crucial victory. He failed to replicate that performance in two starts against Houston in the World Series. He logged only 1 2/3 innings in each start. He departed Game 7 with the Dodgers trailing by five runs. The team never recovered.
In the aftermath, a few members of the Astros crowed about Darvish tipping his pitches. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts acknowledged the team was aware of this potential weakness and tried to correct it. Darvish said he spent part of this winter emphasizing more deception in his delivery.
"Obviously, the Astros, they're a great, strong team," Darvish said. "I don't really know, to be honest, if they knew my pitches. They could just be simply a good team, strong team. And I think it was part of me not being up to my top level in the World Series."
Darvish needed a few batters to find that level Tuesday. He did not allow a hit but he did give up a run. He issued a leadoff walk to Chris Taylor, who took second on a ball in the dirt and then stole third. When Darvish uncorked a second wild pitch to Justin Turner, Taylor came home.
Turner took a walk against Darvish, too. The Dodgers have almost zero experience against Darvish as a foe. The only member of the 40-man roster to face him in a regular-season game is Enrique Hernandez. He tripled off Darvish four years ago.
But Turner had seen Darvish during simulated outings throughout the postseason last year.
"He threw me four balls," Turner said. "Not a whole lot to talk about. The one strike was probably a ball, too." He shrugged. "It was just like facing any other guy."
Darvish recovered well. He struck out Corey Seager, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to complete the first. An inning later, he induced a groundout, watched a rocket from Austin Barnes land in an outfielder's glove and struck out Donovan Solano to end his afternoon. He showed the mastery of sliders and curveballs that enticed the Dodgers to trade for him last summer.
Darvish spoke highly of his time as a Dodger. He spent the winter throwing with Clayton Kershaw in Dallas. His affinity for his former teammates colored his outing.
"Everyone is great, each one of them," Darvish said. "I have a little feeling for them. I just didn't want to hit any batters out there."
BARNES GETS BEHIND THE PLATE
Held back earlier by a bout of discomfort in his right elbow, Barnes started behind the plate for the first time this spring.
Barnes chalked up his elbow's vulnerability to an excessive amount of throwing during the offseason. The Dodgers limited him to designated hitter for the first 11 days of the Cactus League.
"He's been really diligent with his throwing program," Roberts said. "We might have slow-played him a little longer than he would have liked, but I think to get him back there, the timing is perfect for us, for him."
Barnes will split time this season with Yasmani Grandal. The Dodgers view Grandal, a switch hitter, as the primary catcher, who will start most games against right-handed pitchers. Barnes will start against left-handed pitchers, although he was more productive at the plate against right-handers last season (.321 vs. .257).