Chicago Cubs' Darvish walks four but says he feels good after first spring start

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs' Yu Darvish runs in the rain during a spring training baseball workout Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, in Mesa, Ariz.

    Chicago Cubs' Yu Darvish runs in the rain during a spring training baseball workout Monday, Feb. 18, 2019, in Mesa, Ariz.

 
 
Updated 2/26/2019 6:54 PM

MESA, Ariz. -- Meet the new Yu.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish appeared in his first major-league game of any kind since last May when he started Tuesday's Cactus League matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I'm so excited," he said after coming out after 1⅓ innings of the Cubs' 5-4 loss. "This is like my first outing in my life. I'm not throwing the last seven months, so I was excited."

The results weren't spectacular. Darvish gave up no hits and 2 runs (1 earned) as he walked four. More important, he reached 96 mph with his fastball and was consistently hitting 94-95. More important even than that, he came away saying he felt fine.

"I felt pretty good," he said. "No pain. That was a huge part. It was a great day. I couldn't throw strikes with the breaking ball; I never had that before. I'm a breaking-ball pitcher. But that's going to happen during the season. I will get there next outing."

Darvish threw 36 pitches, 17 strikes. He retired the first two batters before walking Wilmer Flores and Christian Walker. Steven Souza flied out to end the first.

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In the second, Darvish walked two of the first three batters he faced, then exited.

But most striking was the difference in Darvish's demeanor and body language.

Speaking of language, he dealt with the Chicago media in English and did so comfortably. Last year the 32-year-old native of Japan used a translator, and he was able to joke about that Tuesday.

"I think interpreter's expensive for the organization, right?" he said with a laugh. "Good for me, too. I have a good experience with you guys and I can use more English.

"You guys understand what I'm thinking from my mouth and not with an interpreter. So that means a lot for me."

Not only that, but Darvish carrying himself more comfortably than he was last year, when he arrived on the eve of spring training having signed a six-year, $126 million contract.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But right-triceps tendinitis and elbow problems limited him to 8 starts, his last for the Cubs being May 20 before a couple of minor-league rehab games. He went 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA and underwent an elbow cleanup in September.

With all that behind him, Darvish finds himself to be happier.

"I feel I'm smiling more than the last seven years," he said. "I think so. Healthy and I learned a lot of things from last year. Before, I worried about the future. I'm scared for the future. But now I'm living, like, now. That makes me more comfortable. I feel more happy."

Darvish is definitely a key for the Cubs this season. If he can make 32 starts and pitches to his accustomed level, it will go a long way toward helping erase the doubts that have been hounding the Cubs this off-season.

Manager Joe Maddon has noticed the difference in Darvish.

"He appears to be much more relaxed, definitely into the flow of things a lot more easily this year," he said. "Throwing really well. The workouts have been fantastic. Tommy's (pitching coach Tommy Hottovy) been really impressed conversationally (how) much more at ease that he is. We're all eager to watch this."

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