MESA, Ariz. — Yu Darvish’s remarkable transformation continued in Cubs camp Friday.
He threw four sharp innings in a simulated game and followed that up with four minutes of even sharper wit and humor for writers.
Darvish said he doesn’t want to talk about the future — even the next few months.
“I want to focus on today and tomorrow,” he said. “Well, tomorrow’s the future. So today.”
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought at least a little bit about what Wrigley Field might feel like the second time around. He’ll take his newfound health and confidence to the mound a year after getting booed off of it.
“I don’t want ‘boo’ anymore,” he said with a smile. “I want ‘Yu.’ That’s all I want. I don’t want ‘boo’ anymore.”
If the four-time All-Star pitches like he has this spring, that won’t be an issue. Facing minor-leaguers in four innings during an early-afternoon sim game that allowed him to avoid a night game across the Phoenix valley, Darvish commanded an upper-90s fastball and buckled knees with two different breaking balls, including one particularly nasty hard curve.
“It was pretty good today,” said Darvish, who has three more starts before his season-opening outing, presumably March 30 in the second game at Texas.
He seems to be especially looking forward to facing his old Rangers teammates.
“I want to, yeah,” he said. “I want to hit a couple of guys: [Joey] Gallo and [Rougned] Odor.”
We’ll be sure to let them know.
Darvish just smirked as others around him laughed.
“He’s been almost a different person this year,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We all know him. He knows us better. Definitely the confidence level seems to be soaring a little bit right now.”
Getting more specific about some things, Darvish admitted that, like Jon Lester and Jason Heyward before him, he denied feeling first-year pressure associated with his $126 million megadeal even though it affected him.
“I said the same thing: ‘I don’t feel pressure,’ ’’ said Darvish, who went 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA in eight starts before his elbow started bothering him. “But, definitely, I was feeling the pressure.”
There also was a sense of awkwardness right away with a new team, possibly exacerbated by signing as late into the free-agent season as he did. His introductory news conference took place in Arizona as camp opened.
“I was a Cubs player, but I’m, like, the new guy,” he said. “I didn’t know the guys, didn’t know Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant. It felt like an All-Star Game. This year, I feel more like [we’re] teammates.”
Who knows where this all goes once the season starts? Darvish certainly has his skeptics.
But six months removed from a “clean-out” procedure on his elbow, he said he feels more “power in my body” and “power on the ball” than he did a year ago.
“I want to show the fans and [media] and teammates how good I am [this year],” he said.