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'Relaxed' Darvish excited to be back on mound

Cubs right-hander walks 4 in spring debut, but flashes high velocity
@MLBastian
February 26, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- Yu Darvish says last year's trials taught him to focus on living in the present, and that mentality is making each day more enjoyable than the last. The Cubs right-hander feels he has been smiling more this spring than at any point since leaving Japan to pitch

MESA, Ariz. -- Yu Darvish says last year's trials taught him to focus on living in the present, and that mentality is making each day more enjoyable than the last. The Cubs right-hander feels he has been smiling more this spring than at any point since leaving Japan to pitch in the Major Leagues.

And Tuesday's start against the D-backs?

"I was so excited," Darvish said after Chicago's 5-4 loss to Arizona. "Like this was the first outing in my life."

Maybe nerves are the explanation for Darvish having as many walks (four) as outs recorded in his Cactus League debut against Arizona. After all, the right-hander had no other way to explain why he could not harness the usual command he has of his breaking pitches.

For Darvish, what mattered was that he felt great physically, and that was backed up by a fastball that sat around 94-96 mph.

Following his performance -- one that included two runs (one earned), no hits allowed and 36 pitches (17 strikes) -- the smile was present as Darvish talked with reporters back at the Cubs' complex. The pitcher has been conducting interviews in English this spring without an interpreter standing nearby. He deadpanned that he made that decision because an interpreter is too expensive for the organization.

There was plenty of laughter from Darvish's audience, but the truth is that ditching the interpreter adds another layer to the comfort and confidence displayed by the righty this spring.

"You guys understand what I'm thinking from my mouth," Darvish said. "That means a lot for me."

And it will mean a lot to the Cubs if Darvish can once again be a front-line starter.

Chicago invested heavily in Darvish last winter, reeling him in with a six-year free-agent contract worth $126 million. He made only eight starts in his first season with the Cubs, going 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA and landing on the injured list by the end of May. Darvish tried to come back -- he made rehab appeances with Class A South Bend on June 25 and Aug. 18 -- but each attempt stalled.

Darvish's injury was initially called right triceps tendinitis, but his final rehab outing resulted in a stress reaction to the tip of his elbow (plus a triceps strain). On Sept. 12, Darvish underwent an arthroscopic debridement via Dr. Keith Meister. When Spring Training arrived, Darvish already had mound sessions under his belt and was deemed unrestricted in his preseason schedule.

Behind the scenes, Darvish's teammates have noticed a difference, too.

"He's looked like himself," Cubs infielder David Bote said. "With the injuries, he was very hard on himself because of it. I think he's a lot more free in that, and I'm excited to see it. I think we'll see a good Yu Darvish this year. ... I can see the joy back in Yu's face."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon agreed.

"He appears to be much more relaxed," Maddon said. "He's definitely into the flow of things more easily this year. He's throwing really well. The workouts have been fantastic."

With his first spring outing behind him -- along with the jitters that flowed through him -- Darvish expects to be even more relaxed the next time he takes a mound.

"I've learned things from last year," Darvish said. "Before, I worried about the future. I was scared for the future. Now, I am living now. That makes me more confident and to feel more happy."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.