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Relaxed ace Darvish gets to grips with ball

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When Yu Darvish was surrounded by hordes of reporters and asked whether his condition was developing favorably, the sole answer he gave them was: “I think so.”

But at least he didn’t say that in a grumpy mood, which is a good sign for the 22-year-old right-handed pitcher who is set to start against China on Thursday on Day 1 of the World Baseball Classic.

Darvish tossed 52 pitches in the bullpen on Tuesday at an indoor facility at Jingu Gaien in Tokyo, and was seemingly able to practice to his satisfaction.

“He was a lot better than last time (Saturday’s exhibition game against the Seibu Lions), having made adjustments,” pitching coach Tsuyoshi Yoda said after the practice. “I’m not worried at all.”

The worry that Yoda was referring to was Darvish’s comfort with the WBC official ball, which is said to be a lot more slippery and has rougher seams than the balls used in the Nippon Professional League.

In the two warmup games he toiled on the mound, Darvish struggled to grip the ball, particularly when he threw breaking balls such as curves and sliders.

The issue surrounding Darvish, who is considered to be an ace hurler along with Boston Red Sox millionaire Daisuke Matsuzaka on Samurai Japan, gave the fans and media some uneasiness as the team enters the tournament in the hunt for a second consecutive championship.

But Kenji Johjima chuckled about their overreaction, agreeing with Yoda that the fireballer will be just fine.

“Although (pitching) in the bullpen and in the game are different,” the Seattle Mariners catcher said, “(Darvish) was just pitching to where he was aiming to throw in the bullpen today. It seems that his hand is fitting with the ball, I can tell you that from his behavior.”

Yoda explained that one of the features of the WBC ball is that it gradually changes its shape, even to the slightest degree, and as far as Darvish is concerned, that affects his biting sliders.

Yet Yoda, a former Chunichi Dragons closer, added that everybody plays under the same conditions, noting that Darvish still has to do his best no matter what.

“It’s not just Darvish who changes balls — everyone does that,” he said with a laugh.