Offseason spent in Texas agrees with Darvish

Rangers righty says strength program going well, elbow feels fine

Offseason spent in Texas agrees with Darvish

ARLINGTON -- This has been a winter of content for Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, who has spent most of it in Texas working out at the Ballpark.

Darvish has a new girlfriend. In November he tweeted to his 1.24 million followers that he was dating Seiko Yamamoto, a four-time world wrestling champion.

Darvish also tweeted that he has built a new gym at his house, which allows him to work out whenever he wants in addition to daily trips to the park.

"This offseason I was able to work on my strength program and my training is going well right now," Darvish said Friday while making a rare public appearance at the Rangers Awards Dinner in Dallas.

It was the first time that Darvish has spoken publicly since he was shut down at the end of the season with mild inflammation in his right elbow. His last start was on Aug. 9 against the Astros, and right now he is throwing off flat ground. Darvish won't go off a mound until the beginning of February, but so far everything has gone well.

"My elbow feels fine and I am able to throw on my throwing program," Darvish said.

The Rangers hope that continues and are at least encouraged that Darvish has been willing to spend the winter in Texas. That has allowed him to meet with new manager Jeff Banister, work with pitching coach Mike Maddux and at least be around some of his teammates.

"It's been a good opportunity for us with him spending the winter here where our guys have been able to work with him on a regular basis," general manager Jon Daniels said. "It was his idea to stay. We love it."

Last season Darvish had to deal with a nerve issue in his lower back during the offseason, and that curtailed his usual rigorous training program. He ended up starting the season on the disabled list with neck stiffness. This offseason, Darvish has gone back to his normal program and is noticing a difference.

"He's right on schedule," Daniels said. "I think Darvish is very in tune with his body as much as anybody and knows how he's feeling. He's very confident. Like any of these guys, until they're out there you're always going to have some reservation, but that's the worrywart in me. From all the information we have, I'm encouraged. He's basically been cleared to do just about everything."

When Darvish reports to Spring Training next month, he will have a new teammate. By all accounts, it's somebody he respects.

This offseason, the Rangers signed right-handed reliever Kyuji Fujikawa, who spent the past two seasons with the Cubs and is still coming back from Tommy John surgery on June 11, 2013. He pitched in 15 games for the Cubs last season and said he will be at full strength in Spring Training as a candidate to be a late-inning setup reliever.

Fujikawa signs with Rangers

Before his two years in Chicago, Fujikawa was one of the top relievers in Japan. Blessed with what was called a "fireball fastball," Fujikawa had 220 career saves, a 1.77 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP for the Hanshin Tigers. He and Darvish were on the 2009 Japanese team that won the World Baseball Classic.

Fujikawa started the tournament as Japan's closer but did not pitch well, and Darvish took over the role in the finals. Fujikawa tutored him in the job and Darvish ended up closing out Japan's last two wins.

"I think I am really close with him ... his brother as well," Darvish said. "He gave me advice when I was closing. It's very positive; it will be nice to have somebody to speak Japanese with, in the clubhouse."

When Darvish shows up in camp, he will also have to get used to working with two new catchers in Robinson Chirinos and Carlos Corporan. The Rangers did re-sign Chris Gimenez, but that was to a Minor League contract. Chirinos and Corporan are expected to be the Rangers' catching tandem, and that will take some adjustment for Darvish. He can be picky about his catchers.

Chirinos was the Rangers' No. 1 catcher last season, but not when Darvish was on the mound. Chirinos caught just three of his 22 starts and none after an April 28 loss to the Athletics. Gimenez was behind the plate for 12 of Darvish's starts, while J.P. Arencibia caught five and Geovany Soto had two.

Corporan was acquired from the Astros on Wednesday. His most memorable encounter against Darvish came on Aug. 12, 2013, with a one-out home run in the eighth inning that broke up Darvish's no-hit bid. Unless Darvish suddenly finds some comfort in throwing to Chirinos that wasn't there last year, Corporan could assume the role of his personal catcher.

Darvish loses no-hit bid

Corporan's forte is supposedly working with his pitchers, and the Rangers got a strong recommendation from Scott Feldman, who is now with the Astros. Darvish insisted he'll be able to work with either one.

"I have paired up with [Chirinos] several times, so it shouldn't be any problem," Darvish said. "I am able to communicate with Corporan, too."

So from new catcher to new girlfriend, old workout program to old Japanese teammate, everything appears to be going well for Darvish in his winter of content. The Rangers need that to continue into Spring Training and beyond.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.