The Rundown: New Year New Yu, Harper Saga Gets Even Crazier, Heyward Takes Time Away From Team, Pace-of-Play Changes

The biggest takeaway from yesterday’s game was not whether the Cubs won or lost (it’s spring training, for the love of Mike), nor how effective Yu Darvish pitched. Darvish summed up all that mattered with two words yesterday: “No pain.”

“I’m so excited,” he said after pitching 1⅓ innings of the Cubs’ 5-4 loss. “This is like my first outing in my life. I’m not throwing the last seven months, so I was excited.”

So, the first major hurdle is cleared and Cubs fans near and far can wait to see how he is feeling this morning. I wouldn’t anticipate any issues. The bulked-up righty has been working hard all offseason, and like the rest of his teammates, came to Arizona with a chip on his shoulder. But while his blue brethren are bound and determined to show that their early playoff exit was a fluke, Darvish is out to prove he is worth every penny the Cubs invested in him, and then some.

He’s the key to erasing a lot of bad 2018 memories for the entire organization. If Darvish can make his 32 starts and pitch to his capabilities, everybody wins and the Cubs will likely take back the Central Division title from the Brewers.

As the pain of last year slowly fades with winter’s eventual thaw, Darvish has been a happy camper, if not a playful one. No longer sewn at the hip to an interpreter, the lefty speaks more than decent English and will usually pepper any interview with a laugh or two.

“I think interpreter’s expensive for the organization, right?” he said with a laugh. “Good for me, too. I have a good experience with you guys and I can use more English.

“You guys understand what I’m thinking from my mouth and not with an interpreter. So that means a lot for me.”

That means a lot to the Cubs and to the team’s fans because even before last season’s elbow injury, Darvish seemed to lack the confidence and the killer instinct to be a top-of-rotation starter. Many Cubs fans called him soft. That’s not the case anymore if three weeks of Arizona practice is any indication.

“I feel I’m smiling more than the last seven years,” he said. “I think so. Healthy and I learned a lot of things from last year. Before, I worried about the future. I’m scared for the future. But now I’m living, like, now. That makes me more comfortable. I feel more happy.”

New year, new Yu. Let’s hope so.

Cubs News & Notes

Spring Training Notes

Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado signed a fat contract extension yesterday that gives him the highest AAV of any position player in baseball.

With contract extensions being de rigueur these days, the Yankees hope to lock up Didi Gregorius and Delin Betances next.

Clayton Kershaw will test his injured left shoulder again on Thursday.

Sixteen of baseball’s fastest 21 pitches last season belonged to Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks. The fireballing right-hander has the inside track to close for St. Louis this season.

The Cardinals signed catcher Matt Wieters to a minor league contract yesterday.

The Phillies are growing very concerned that Harper would rather play for the Dodgers than in Philadelphia. I’m no expert, but when the organization’s top executives left Las Vegas last week without a signed deal, only to watch the Dodgers’ entourage arrive shortly thereafter, it should have been obvious that he’s not very keen on manning right field for the Phillies for the next 10 years.

And then there was this from Yankees beat writer Randy Miller of…

94 WIP Sports Radio’s Angelo Cataldi claimed that a potential deal in terms of dollars and years was agreed to by the Phillies and Harper, but the deal was held up by Scott Boras’s demand for an opt-out clause. The agent was said to be insisting on adding a three-year opt-out to the deal, which was  allegedly rejected by Philadelphia GM Matt Klentak.

I’m not entirely opposed to Harper crushing the hearts of the Phillies and their fans, are you?

With more teams entering the race for Harper, his free agency could potentially drag into March. Negotiations have gotten so ridiculous that even the band Smash Mouth claims to have inside information.

MLB may be willing to abandon the pitch clock for regular season games until at least 2022 under a new proposal. The MLBPA would have to instead agree to allow baseball to implement a three-batter-minimum rule for pitchers and roster-size changes in 2020.

The Blue Jays are of the opinion that all-world prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. isn’t quite ready for the majors just yet. I’ll sit here quietly and wait for Kris Bryant’s head to explode.

New Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is not opposed to the concept of using an opener.

Extra Innings

Sadly, this is scenario we may have to get used to.

By no means do I feel that Addison Russell deserves the kind of support that seems genuinely misplaced here. He is not a victim. The victims are the women in his life and his children.

The Cubs organization has deemed that Russell warrants a third chance despite actions that prove otherwise. Maybe the front office has truly vetted the entire situation and believes Russell is better served by not having the disruption that comes with being cut or traded. And though that may be true, the adulation here is a little tough to swallow. I certainly hope he changes his life and becomes a better man, and more importantly, a better father. But he still has a long way to go.

Does he deserve encouragement? Yes. But that should come from the organization in private, his family, his psychological support staff, and of course from Melisa Reidy, at least at this juncture of his rehabilitation process. Forgiving him before it is truly earned will only enable him.

Wednesday Walk Up Song

Lost in the Light by Bahamas. Powerful lyrics that might mean a lot to Russell. “If someone could see me now let them see you.”

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