Darvish getting stronger physically, mentally

Darvish getting stronger physically, mentally

ARLINGTON -- Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish said he is feeling stronger physically than he did before having Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last March 17. More importantly, Darvish said he is feeling much better mentally as well.

Darvish, speaking with the media after his rehabilitation workout on Wednesday, admitted that the game started becoming a grind over the past few years, and he wasn't enjoying it as much. The time off has made a difference.

"I feel like I'm enjoying throwing more and playing baseball," Darvish said. "I'm seeing things different than I did in the past."

Darvish has a role model in Prince Fielder, who won the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2015. Fielder, who missed the last four months of the '14 season after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck, said the time off reminded him how much fun the game was and how much he missed it.

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"I feel I'm the same way," Darvish said. "If I can enjoy it and do what I am doing on the mound, the results will come. He had good results last year, and I'm hoping to have the same."

Darvish is on a throwing program but has yet to throw off a mound. He is throwing long toss from 120 feet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and playing catch on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 75 feet. He has a light throwing session on Saturdays and takes Sundays off.

"I am feeling pretty well, and I feel stronger than I did before the surgery," Darvish said. "Every [body] part you can imagine I feel stronger."

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Darvish said he feels he could throw 95 mph, but the Rangers aren't ready for that yet. Darvish will report to Spring Training on time next Thursday with pitchers and catchers, but will not throw off a mound until sometime in March. He will likely need at least a month of throwing off the mound before a medical rehabilitation assignment that could entail 5-6 starts in the Minors.

The goal for Darvish's return is still somewhere between mid-May and the beginning of June. He joked about his hope being sometime in April, but that's not going to happen.

Having come this far, nobody wants to take any chances down the stretch. He has not had any setbacks to this point.

"I want to take my time," Darvish said. "I don't want to rush it."

The normal recovery from Tommy John is 12 months, but the Rangers built in an extra two months to make sure. Darvish took six weeks off from throwing at the end of 2015 to let his body recover and then picked it up again after the beginning of the year.

"After I came back from six weeks off, I felt stronger, so I think it should help," Darvish said.

Darvish enters his fifth season with the Rangers. From 2012-14, he was 39-25 with a 3.27 ERA in 83 starts. Over those three years combined, he was eighth in the American League in ERA and first with 11.22 strikeouts per nine innings.

The Rangers are holding a spot for him in a rotation that already includes left-handers Cole Hamels, Derek Holland and Martin Perez, and right-hander Colby Lewis. The fifth spot is open. Chi Chi Gonzalez, Nick Martinez, Anthony Ranaudo and A.J. Griffin are the leading candidates entering Spring Training, but when Darvish is ready, he'll be in the rotation.

"I imagine myself being on the mound again," Darvish said. "It's good ... thinking how hard I can throw, how much better I will be. I'm excited to think of myself back on the mound."

Worth noting

• First baseman Mitch Moreland's arbitration hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, and it appears there will not be a settlement before then. It will be the Rangers' first arbitration hearing since 2000. Moreland is seeking $6 million while the Rangers have submitted $4.675 million.

• The Rangers have signed infielder Doug Bernier to a Minor League contract. He has not been invited to Major League camp but will still report early to Spring Training and may get some playing time in Cactus League games. He has played in 44 games with the Twins over the past three years.

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