Yu Darvish is feeling stronger than he did before elbow surgery, and has a renewed passion for the game after missing all of last season as the Texas Rangers were winning the AL West.
While the right-hander feels good in rehabilitation, the Rangers and Darvish are taking their time with the pitcher who hopes to start throwing bullpen sessions again next month in Arizona. He plans to be back on the mound for Texas by mid-May or early June.
"I have no problems at all right now, I have no concerns at all," Darvish said Tuesday through his translator. "I feel like I can throw 95 (mph) right now, but they're telling me not to, so I'm still taking my time. But I feel really good right now."
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Darvish was an All-Star in his first three years with the Rangers before missing all of last season following Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow. He was 39-25 with a 3.27 ERA and 680 strikeouts in 83 starts for Texas from 2012-14, after the previous seven seasons in Japan.
"For 10 years, I've been throwing in my career. ... It's kind of like it became routine and I wasn't enjoying it as much as I used to when I first started my career," the 29-year-old pitcher said. "But having that time (away), I feel like I'm enjoying throwing the ball right now."
Darvish said he has envisioned himself being back on the mound, imagining "how hard can I throw, how much better I can be on the mound."
His rehab schedule now includes throwing six days a week, doing long toss Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday, and then 20-25 pitches off flat ground from 60-75 feet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with some light throwing on Saturdays. He is not throwing any breaking pitches, only mixing in a few cutters, changeups and two-seamers.
Darvish plans to be in Arizona with other Rangers pitchers for their spring training reporting date Feb. 18, which is a week from Thursday. He's not sure yet if he will be working out with the team, but his plan is to build up as much as he can for bullpen sessions in March.
During a conversation of about 20 minutes with a small group of Rangers beat writers, Darvish also addressed a couple of questions about the October arrest of his brother in Japan for allegedly running an illegal betting ring. Sho Darvish reportedly took about 1,850 bets on MLB games as well as professional baseball games in Japan. His arrest came after a police investigation lasted more than a year.
Darvish issued a statement last month saying he was certain that Major League Baseball would find that he had no involvement in the matter. Just days after that, MLB cleared the pitcher.
"I really have nothing to do with what he's done, and that doesn't affect me performing or about what I'm doing right now," Darvish said. "They say people make mistakes. My brother made one."