Yu Darvish to start Sunday vs. Rays

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish is scheduled to start Sunday against the Rays in Tampa.

It's a slightly later 2014 debut than the club had planned when spring training began, but Darvish's stiff neck is fine, so he'll come off the disabled list Sunday and pitch.

The club made the decision to insert him in Tampa rather than next week in Boston because they wanted their best pitcher in the rotation as soon as they could get him in there. And his bullpen sessions have been good enough that a rehab start wasn't deemed necessary.

It pushes Tanner Scheppers, who started on Opening Day, to Monday in Boston followed by Martin Perez and Robbie Ross. The team has not made any decisions beyond that in terms of who Darvish will replace in the rotation. They'll likely evaluate how the current rotation performs before doing so.

"Once his neck wasn't bothering him anymore, we saw the same stuff we saw in Arizona," manager Ron Washington said about his top pitcher. "He didn't back up any."

Darvish threw an 86-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday that was close to a simulated four innings, where he got up and sat down. Former Rangers catcher Pudge Rodriguez, a special assistant with the club, stood near home plate during part of the session to give Darvish the feel of having a hitter in there against him.

"He came in today (Wednesday) feeling good," Washington said. "We just feel like he's ready to go."

Darvish hasn't faced a hitter swinging a bat since March 16 in Arizona. He was scratched from his Opening Day start after his neck didn't feel right, but an MRI showed no structural damage.

He started a throwing program on Saturday in Arlington and threw a short bullpen session on Sunday prior to the long one on Tuesday. He came out of those feeling fine.

Darvish won't be on any specific pitch count, though Washington hinted that he probably ready to throw around 100 on Sunday. And the skipper has no concerns about the long layoff for Darvish.

"He's still as strong as an ox," Washington said. "He still was darting up the gnats that were flying around home plate. You know how small a gnat is. He was knocking them down with consistency. He's ready to go."

Darvish is set to begin his third season with the Rangers. He pitched 209 2/3 innings in 32 starts last season, finishing as the runner-up in the Cy Young balloting after sporting a 2.83 ERA and leading the league with 277 strikeouts.

He had some back issues at the end of last season and received an injection to help with inflammation in October. He altered his offseason program slightly and said he felt good by mid-January. He didn't have any issues in spring outside of the neck in the final week.