SURPRISE, ARIZONA – Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish will make the first Opening Day start of his six-year major league career when his team hosts the American League champion Cleveland Indians on April 3.
“We feel we have one of the best pitchers in baseball leading off our rotation. He is poised to have a great year,” Texas skipper Jeff Banister was quoted as saying on MLB.com on Saturday. “We feel he is in a great place.”
Darvish, who missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery that March, returned to action last May and went 7-5 with a 3.41 ERA in 17 starts.
“Two years ago, I couldn’t even tell whether I’d be able to return to the mound after Tommy John surgery, and I’m grateful for the team for handing me this massive role,” a post on his Twitter feed said.
“I’ll pitch to the best of my ability not just on Opening Day but through the end of the season!”
The 30-year-old, who opened the season five times in Japan for the Pacific League’s Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, was named Texas’ Opening Day pitcher in 2014 but was scratched due to neck tightness.
He would become the fifth Japanese pitcher to start on Opening Day in the majors, following Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka.
Tanaka will start for the New York Yankees for the third straight year next month, and it’ll be the first time two Japanese pitchers will handle that duty in the same season.
Darvish threw 90 pitches in a practice game against Triple-A Oklahoma on Friday, allowing three runs, one earned, on four hits and a walk in six innings in a tune-up as he enters the final year of his six-year deal with the Rangers.
“I’m already feeling I can go out there. I’ll do my best to hold the opposition down in the regular season too,” he said after the game. “I was able to get them to hit my two-seam fastballs even when I was behind in counts.”
Darvish worked in four preseason games, giving up four earned runs in 12⅔ innings.
“Not only with the arm, but the body, how he rebounded from his rehab and the number of starts and innings last year. Secondly, what kind of shape he was in,” Banister said, according to MLB.com.
“He’s in great shape. Mentally . . . the laser-sharp focus. He wants to be the best pitcher on the planet. He has rebounded from every bullpen session and every outing. He is healthy and ready to go.”
In addition to Darvish and Tanaka, Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda has been slated to start his team’s second game of the year, against the San Diego Padres on April 4 at Dodger Stadium. Maeda also pitched his first major league game against the Padres, when he homered and was the winning pitcher in San Diego.