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Darvish looking to build on impressive sophomore campaign for Rangers

What was meant as a casual joke by Yu Darvish created a brief social media firestorm Tuesday afternoon.

Asked about the new posting system and Masahiro Tanaka’s $155 million contract from the Yankees, Darvish said through a translator with a chuckle: “I don’t know the details of the posting system, but I think the Yankees gave him a little bit too much.”

Darvish clarified those comments later in a statement issued by the team, stating: “I am sorry if anyone took my comment seriously about Masahiro Tanaka at the press conference today. I assumed by the reaction in the room that everyone knew I was joking.”

All joking aside, Darvish said that he felt his success, along with fellow Japanese starters Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees and Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners, helped Tanaka land a deal of that size.

The Tanaka talk made the headlines from Darvish’s first comments of the spring, but he touched on a variety of topics from losing a couple pounds in the off-season to pitching in close games to improving his fastball command.

Darvish has impressed early on in camp and many believe he can improve on his successful sophomore campaign from last year.

“I feel he’s going to be a lot better this year because he looks great, feels great,” said Geovany Soto, who caught Darvish’s live batting practice session Tuesday. “He’s almost in game shape.”

Darvish is coming off a season in which he flirted with three no-hitters, finished second in the American League Cy Young vote by going 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA and led the league with 277 strikeouts. But he also held the dubious distinction of being the first pitcher to lose four 1-0 games since Orel Hershiser of the Dodgers had a similar fate in 1989.

Those close losses speak volumes to the run support Darvish received throughout the year. He had only 3.08 runs of support over his last 23 outings, the second-lowest in the AL during that span. He had two runs or fewer of support in 17 of his last 23 starts, and became the first pitcher in franchise history to make seven straight starts of at least five innings and receive two or fewer runs of support in each outing.

Along the way, though, Darvish never complained which impressed the coaching staff. With better run support this season, manager Ron Washington joked, Darvish could win 35 games in 32 starts.

Darvish explained his mindset when it comes to run support, saying: “The game is something you can’t control, so you can’t be pessimistic or optimistic. The main thing is to keep yourself healthy. If you’re healthy enough, I think numbers are going to follow. The outcome is something that is a result of having a healthy season. I can’t really control what goes on in game situations.”

Darvish enters camp healthy and the presumed Opening Day starter after Washington alluded to it last month at the team’s Fan Fest.

Darvish had lower back issues at the end of last season, pitching fewer than six innings in his final three starts. That pain subsided once Darvish altered his off-season workouts by avoiding heavy lifting.

Outside of staying healthy, the one thing Washington would like to see Darvish improve is fastball command. Washington believes it can help Darvish pitch deeper into games, and pitching coach Mike Maddux agreed.

“Command of the fastball is like a snowball: It gets bigger,” Maddux said. “If I get fastball command, I command the counts. If I command the counts, I command the at-bat. If I command the at-bat, I command the inning.”

Darvish predicted that this season would reveal how much better his fastball command, and the hope is it translates into an even better 2014.