Yu Darvish addressed the print media Sunday in English for the first time since coming to the major leagues, a pleasant exchange in which he colorfully disputed claims by those who believe that he quit on the Texas Rangers last season.
To say the least, he disagrees.
“That’s bull----,” Darvish said.
His command of the blue side of the language and bovine digestion aside, the simple act of speaking English is an indication that Darvish is experiencing his best mindset since coming to America.
That includes on the field and off.
Darvish has a serious girlfriend and is expecting a child with her. He spent more than half of the off-season in Texas, forming a better bond with his teammates. More than ever, he’s one of the guys.
“I’m so happy every day,” said Darvish, who worked a perfect inning Sunday in the Rangers’ first intrasquad game.
That wasn’t the case in August, when an injury that was termed “mild elbow inflammation” ended up keeping Darvish out the final seven weeks of the season. When he was initially placed on the disabled list, he said that he would have kept pitching if the Rangers were winning.
That didn’t sit well with some in the media, and it didn’t set well with some teammates. Darvish then had an MRI that revealed a more significant injury to his ulnar collateral ligament, and he was advised by team physician Dr. Keith Meister and club personnel that continuing to pitch could be harmful to his career.
“After I got an MRI and it showed it was bad and I had a ligament injury, after that I changed my mind,” said Darvish, who felt burning in the elbow when he threw. “Some people talked about that, that I, Yu Darvish, quit the team. I never quit the team. I love my teammates, this ballclub. I never did that. I never did that in my life. That’s not true.”
General manager Jon Daniels admitted that in the face of a bevy of injuries that had wrecked the Rangers’ season, he wanted to keep panic at a minimum by using “mild elbow inflammation” and keeping open the possibility that Darvish might pitch again late in the season.
When asked what his injury was, Darvish passed.
“Ask JD,” he said.
“We had an MRI that clearly showed an issue,” Daniels said. “It wasn’t a tear. It wasn’t a true strain of the ligament.”
Even after it was announced that Darvish wouldn’t return, let alone even play catch until November, the terminology was never altered.
“There was speculation that Yu wasn’t hurt, and that wasn’t the case,” Daniels said. “Why take any chance at that point?”
Darvish is healthy now, as he showed in making easy work of the three batters he faced Sunday. He retired Antoan Richardson on a groundout, and struck out Rougned Odor and Michael Choice in a 14-pitch inning.
“Darvish was efficient and sharp,” manager Jeff Banister said. “Mixed his pitches well.”
Darvish is also healthy in the clubhouse. He has been nudged by Daniels and Banister this spring to speak English to the media, and nudged by fellow rotation members Colby Lewis and Derek Holland to speak more English to his teammates.
Darvish will still use an interpreter for serious conversations, but Daniels said that his use of an interpreter when speaking to teammates has been more the exception than the norm.
He spoke English with American reporters for some seven minutes by his locker at the Surprise Recreation Campus. He was of a pleasant demeanor throughout, even when calling bull on those who questioned his motives late last season.
“I talk in English so much now with teammates,” Darvish said. “Everything is going great. To learn was hard. But if I can speak … . People who have come to Japan, they never speak Japanese and we feel bad. But if they speak Japanese, we feel good. So, I have to be like that.”
Catcher Robinson Chirinos, who will be paired with Darvish much of the season, likes the new free-speaking Darvish.
“We need him to be part of what we’re doing, and he’s doing awesome,” said Chirinos, a native of Venezuela who has become fluent in English. “He’s talking to everybody. He’s making jokes. He’s laughing. He’s having fun. You see the difference this year. That speaks a lot about the way he’s thinking in everything he’s doing.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760