Yu Darvish closer to returning to rotation

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish threw an 86-pitch bullpen session at Globe Life Park on Tuesday and is getting closer to making his first start of the 2014 season.

When that occurs is still undecided, but Darvish can’t come off the disabled list until Saturday. Starting Sunday in Tampa Bay or Monday in Boston seems quite possible, though the club isn’t giving any timetables. They will discuss a plan after seeing how Darvish recovers from the bullpen session Wednesday, but both manager Ron Washington and general manager Jon Daniels indicated Monday that Darvish didn’t necessarily need a rehab start before getting back in the rotation.

“We did the assimilation of probably four innings of work, getting up and down,” pitching coach Mike Maddux said. “All pitches were good. He looked very good, feels healthy. But we’ll know more tomorrow (Wednesday) and see how he recovers from that. So the next step would be to wait until tomorrow. He’s on the right track.”

Darvish, 27, hasn’t thrown to hitters since March 16 in Arizona. But the club and Darvish feel that physically he’s ready without needing any kind of rehab start in the minor leagues. Darvish’s neck stiffened up late in spring and he was scratched from his scheduled Opening Day start. He began throwing again Saturday with some pitches off flat ground and then threw a short bullpen Sunday and the longer one Tuesday.

Darvish told the Japanese media Tuesday that his command wasn't where he wanted it, but that he thought he could pitch in a game.

Darvish enters his third season with the Rangers and has rarely missed a start. He pitched 191 1/3 innings in 29 starts in 2012 and 209 2/3 innings in 32 starts in 2013. Darvish was runner-up in the AL Cy Young voting last season, posting a 2.83 ERA and a league-leading 277 strikeouts.

Darvish had back issues late last season and received an injection in early October to help relieve inflammation. He said in spring training that his back felt better by mid-January and that altering his offseason workout program to not lift as many heavy weights helped.

Darvish’s first start last season was memorable. In the second game of the season against the Houston Astros in Houston, Darvish had a perfect game for 8 2/3 innings until Marwin Gonzalez hit a single up the middle to end the bid.