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Cubs’ Yu Darvish playing ‘Frisbee’ again with breaking pitches

SURPRISE, Ariz. — There it was. First batter of the game for Yu Darvish.

Rangers leadoff man Delino DeShields had no chance when the two-strike pitch took the hard turn as he swung and missed.

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The slider, which was the last pitch to return for Darvish after Tommy John surgery three years ago this month, is unmistakably back.

Darvish earlier this spring / John Antonoff photo

“Not just DeShields,” Darvish said through a translator after his final full-throttle spring start Wednesday. “But just in general, especially with the sliders, the hitters are reacting the way they did prior to my Tommy John surgery. So I think that’s a good indication.”

Darvish struck out seven, walked none and allowed only three hits in six innings for a 5-1 victory over his former Rangers teammates. With one tapered start left Monday in Fort Myers, Florida, against the Red Sox, Darvish looks ready.

“I think so,” he said.

He finished Cactus League play in Arizona with a 3-0 record and five runs allowed in 16⅓ innings (2.76 ERA) with 20 strikeouts, a consistent mid-90s fastball, the return of his wipeout slider and the confidence that “I feel at my best [in my career] currently.”

Catcher Willson Contreras said Darvish is even better than he expected him to be.

“I faced him hitting, and he was nasty,” Contreras said. “And everything moved. Now that I’m behind the plate and I’m behind the ball, I don’t know how the hitter hits the ball. Because everything goes just like a Frisbee. Like a hard Frisbee baseball.

“He’s just insane. It’s going to be fun to watch.”

Hendricks update

No. 2 starter Kyle Hendricks, who skipped a scheduled start in a minor-league game Tuesday because of strep throat, threw what manager Joe Maddon called a “mega bullpen” instead.

He threw 105 pitches in a seven-inning simulation in the pen.

“Give him credit because he was hurting a little bit when he walked in the building,” Maddon said. “But he got through it, which keeps him on pace for his regular next time out.”

That’s Sunday, his last scheduled day to pitch before making his season debut March 30 in Miami.

This and that

Maddon said it’s “not impossible” that the Cubs could add a reliever or bench player from the outside in the final days of camp as other teams release players.

“But we’re very happy with what we have here,” he said. “It would have to be somebody that really stands out.”

The Cubs lost left-hander Dario Alvarez to the Mariners, who claimed him off waivers.

• Two days after leaving open the possibility of going with a 12-man pitching staff and taking an extra bench player north, Maddon said the Cubs “probably” will go with the 13-man staff after all, in large part because of the single day off in the first 11 days of the season.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com