SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Yu Darvish dazzled his teammates with a scoreless inning in a Texas Rangers intrasquad game Sunday, then unveiled the latest addition to his repertoire: A much improved command of the English language.
Darvish, who has spoken almost exclusively through an interpreter for public consumption since signing with Texas out of his native Japan in 2012, achieved a first when he gave a six-minute interview in English with print reporters. Among other things, he tried to set the record straight about the premature and somewhat controversial ending to his 2014 season.
Darvish, a three-time All-Star, was 10-7 with a 3.06 ERA when he went down with what the Rangers called "mild elbow inflammation" in August. The Rangers were mired in last place at the time, and Darvish created a stir when he said he might have continued to pitch if the team was higher up in the standings. A subsequent MRI showed the injury was more serious than initially believed, and Darvish said doctors advised him to shut it down for the final seven weeks.
In hindsight, what response does Darvish have for media critics and fans who suggested that he quit on the team?
"That's bulls---," Darvish said. "I never quit the team. I love my teammates and this ballclub, and I've never done that in my life. That's not true."
When asked if the injury was more than mild elbow inflammation, Darvish demurred.
"Ask J.D.," he said, in reference to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels.
The overall tone of Darvish's interview was friendly and upbeat, reflecting his greater comfort level in the U.S. and his willingness to share more details into his personal life. During the offseason, Darvish revealed on his personal blog that he and his girlfriend, Seiko Yamamoto, are expecting their first child.
Darvish has become much more comfortable speaking English with teammates in the clubhouse, and he credits fellow starters Colby Lewis and Derek Holland with being particularly helpful as tutors. Lewis previously pitched in Japan with the Hiroshima Carp in 2008-2009.
Darvish also said he plans to take a more "aggressive" approach to pitching this season at the behest of new Texas manager Jeff Banister, who conveyed that sentiment to him in a conversation earlier in spring training.
A return to form by Darvish and Holland will help the Rangers go a long way toward rebounding from their disappointing 67-95 record in an injury-ravaged 2014. Since joining the Texas rotation in 2012, Darvish leads the majors with 11.22 strikeouts per nine innings and ranks second to the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw in lowest opponents' batting average against (.216) and fewest hits per nine innings (7.16).
Darvish made his spring training debut before the typical array of Texas and Japanese media, as well as members of a traveling Japanese college team who watched from behind the screen on a back field at Surprise Stadium. He retired Antoan Richardson on a groundball and struck out Rougned Odor and Michael Choice in a tidy, 13-pitch inning.
Darvish topped out at 94 mph on the radar gun and ended his day with a 62 mph curveball to whiff Choice, who could only laugh in exasperation as he walked back to the bench.
"He's ready," Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos said of Darvish. "The way he looked today, he's ready for Opening Day, and we still have 30 days of spring training. That tells you he's going to get better from now on."