Texas Rangers' Yu Darvish throws during spring training baseball practice Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel
March 01, 2015

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) Yu Darvish saved his best stuff for after his inning on the mound.

The Texas Rangers ace, who was shut down last August with elbow inflammation, threw 14 pitches without any discomfort on Sunday during an intrasquad game - his most extensive work since the injury ended his 2014 season.

Darvish struck out two of three batters he faced as curious Rangers fans, the usual large Japanese media contingent that follows his every move and a touring college team from Japan watched through the fence on a back practice field behind Surprise Stadium.

Afterward, the three-time All-Star described his outing as ''great,'' saying he was pleased with his performance, which included him hitting 94 mph on the radar gun.

But while he dazzled onlookers, Darvish delivered a surprise following the workout by speaking to beat writers almost exclusively in English for the first time since joining the Rangers in 2012. Standing in front of his locker, Darvish first shooed away Japanese reporters before addressing his injury and some of the criticism that followed.

After making his last start on Aug. 9 Darvish was accused in some circles of quitting on the Rangers, an allegation he shut down with a choice English curse word.

''I didn't quit on the team. I love this ballclub. I've never done that in my life. That's not true,'' he said.

Darvish didn't pitch over the final seven weeks last season due to what the team described as ''mild elbow inflammation.'' Darvish had initially said he could keep pitching if the Rangers were in the playoff race, leading some to speculate about the actual severity of his injury.

Darvish, though, explained doctors advised him that if he kept pitching he would be risking further damage to his elbow ligament. He said he did not receive any injections in the elbow.

Clearly, something was lost in translation, prompting to Darvish to say that the next step in his growth as a player is to ''learn English.''

''I know that when people come to Japan and they never speak Japanese, we feel bad,'' he said. ''If they speak Japanese, we feel good, so I have to be like that. If I can speak more English, it's easier to communicate.''

Darvish has been asked by manager Jeff Bannister to take on more of a leadership role this season, and the 28-year-old understands that to do that he has to overcome any language barrier with his teammates. He's been working hard on his second language, getting a hand from pitcher Colby Lewis, who played in Japan.

Darvish, too, is fine tuning his vast repertoire of pitches. His strikeouts were vintage Darvish, fooling infielder Rougned Odor and Michael Choice with nasty off-speed deliveries.

Darvish, who has gone 39-25 with a 3.27 ERA in three seasons since signing a six-year, $56 million contract, acknowledged there have been times when he could have been mentally tougher.

''I can be more aggressive,'' he said.

Darvish said he feels more comfortable physical and mentally than at any time in his career. He's at peace, in a good place and recently revealed that he and girlfriend Seiko Yamamoto are expecting their first child together.

Speaking in English during the upbeat and friendly interview was a major step for Darvish.

''I'm happy,'' he said. ''This spring if I change my mind, then I can pitch better. You understand?''

His smile made sense in any language.

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