Yu Darvish stood atop the Dr Pepper Ballpark pitching mound on Sunday for his first rehabilitation start not only out to conquer Tommy John surgery, but also the emotional and mental scars of the operating table.
That he pitched two innings healthy for the first time since August 2014 was not lost on the Texas Rangers right-hander.
“Seriously, I hoped that I was not going to blow my elbow,” Darvish said. “That’s what I was thinking. That was my first concern. I’m very happy about my outing.”
Darvish, admittedly relieved to clear this hurdle on the way to an expected return later this month, threw 32 pitches over two innings of Frisco’s DoubleA game against Corpus Christi, and he reported no physical problems in the immediate aftermath.
In his first game action since Aug. 9, 2014, Darvish allowed no hits, struck out two and walked one. Another reached base off a fielding error committed by third baseman Garrett Weber.
As Darvish walked to the dugout following a flyout to left that ended the second inning, an approving RoughRiders crowd gave him a hearty standing ovation, which he acknowledged with a tip of his cap and wave.
The 29-year-old, who has career 39-25 record with a 3.27 ERA and 680 strikeouts in 83 games, will be re-evaluated Monday. An announcement on his next scheduled start is expected Monday.
It remains unclear how many rehab starts he will make or need in order to work up to 90-100 pitches.
The three-time AL All-Star missed all of last season and delayed this, his fifth major league campaign because of Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in March 2015.
His catcher was Rangers battery mate Chris Gimenez, who is also on assignment at Double A after missing the first month of the season with an infection in his leg.
Darvish said his menu of pitches included a slider, cutter, curveball and two-seam fastball, which, Gimenez said, had “a ton of life to it.”
“It’s been awhile since I pitched in a game situation,” said Darvish through his interpreter. “I felt like I was pitching with the bases loaded in the big-league games every pitch. That’s how I felt.
“Physically, I had no problem. Maybe mentally, that was my first outing, so I was a little overexcited, but that was it.”
Gimenez observed a little “extra bounce” in Darvish’s step, noting that the pitcher wanted to start playing catch an hour before the game.
“He said ‘I haven’t pitched in a year. I forgot what time I need to start,’ ” said Gimenez, who caught all nine innings of the RoughRiders’ 4-3 loss.
“I think he was just extremely excited to be out there.”
The radar gun was an indicator of Darvish’s enthusiasm, said Gimenez, who called the fastball “awesome.”
“I think he hit 97-98,” said Gimenez before adding jokingly, “don’t tell him that.”
Darvish’s fastball topped 97 mph on the radar gun, but he slyly said that figure might require verification.
“Just to be clear, I hear the gun here shows a couple of miles slower,” Darvish joked. “So it could be 99. [But] please, write it just as it is.”
So, 97 mph it is for a relieved pitcher with designs on renewed health and career prosperity.