MESA, Ariz. — The new and improved Yu Darvish is starting to sound so improved that he might not need the rest of spring training to be ready to pitch when the season opens more than three weeks from now.
“I feel the best [I have] in my career,” he said after working two sharp innings against the White Sox on Sunday in the Cubs’ exhibition rout, then finishing his work in the bullpen only because the Cubs spent too long hitting in the top of the second.
Darvish, who brought a new swagger to camp along with newfound health in his pitching elbow, seemed sure he could tell even this early how his strength and stuff stack up to any point in his 14-year professional career.
“Yeah, because I’m throwing 97 [mph], and the slider was very good, and the split was good, too,” he said.
“That’s the best stuff in my life.”
Assuming that remains the case, who needs Bryce Harper — or anybody else added to the roster?
The Cubs won 95 games last year despite offensive breakdowns in the second half and nothing from Darvish all year after a poor start devolved into an elbow issue that ended his season.
If the way he felt Sunday is a sign of things to come?
“I think I can help, a little bit,” he said, “if I feel good.”
A lot remains to be seen, if not proved. But that would mean Darvish would amount to an impact addition to a rotation he considers the “best in the league.”
It also means you can throw out that PECOTA projection of last place, he said.
“If I can help a team, that means we can win the division and playoffs,” Darvish said.
Left-hander Xavier Cedeno, who signed a $900,000 free-agent deal after camp opened, has been hampered by a sore wrist since then. Cedeno has played catch in recent days, but his timeline for getting in a game is anything but certain.
“They’re just being very precautious holding him back,” Maddon said, “but it’s nothing awful.”
Full Monty of spring
Left-hander Mike Montgomery had his throwing schedule in camp delayed for more than a week after opening camp with a stiff shoulder, but Maddon said the swingman has enough time to pitch enough innings to be ready for long work by the time the season starts.
Montgomery makes his spring game “debut” Monday in a simulated game.
“Without any setbacks, he should be fine, and I don’t anticipate any setbacks,” Maddon said.
Heyward status day-to-day
Right fielder Jason Heyward was back at the ballpark but still not in the lineup after taking ill Saturday.
“He’s better,” Maddon said. “He’s not 100 percent. We’ve just got to be careful with him.”
The Cubs have all their players under contract after signing their 17 pre-arbitration players in recent days.
Those included catcher Willson Contreras ($684,000), center fielder Albert Almora Jr. ($615,500) and infielder/outfielder Ian Happ ($603,500).
The crosstown matchup between the Cubs and Sox drew an announced crowd of 16,069 to Sloan Park — a spring-training record for Florida and Arizona.
The Cubs broke their own record of 15,849, set last year against the Giants.