Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish trains in Arizona while waiting for camp to start
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Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish is determined to prove his doubters wrong in 2019.
Though Cubs pitchers and catchers aren’t scheduled to report to spring training until Tuesday, Darvish is already in Arizona, preparing for the season. He has been throwing from a mound for the last two weeks and hasn’t had any apparent issues.
Darvish doesn’t need to be reminded of how disappointing last season was. After signing a six-year, $126 million contract right before camp opened, he made only eight starts — going 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA — before an injury to his right elbow ended his season.
Darvish, however, said this season will be different.
‘‘Now I feel like my place is here,’’ he said. ‘‘I feel more comfortable, and I have more confidence than last year.’’
Cubs president Theo Epstein said he has noticed Darvish is in a better mindset.
‘‘From interacting with him, my sense is he’s in a much better position,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘More importantly, the guys that have gone down and visited with him and worked with him and seen him throw and had in-depth conversations with him — [pitching coach] Tommy Hottovy and the other guys that have gone down to see him — have been raving about where he’s at.’’
While rehabbing from surgery this winter, Darvish — who won’t be limited at the start of camp — has put on 15 pounds of muscle and increased the flexibility and range of motion in his pitching arm, Epstein said.
‘‘His arm feels terrific; his throwing program’s going great,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘He’s feeling really good about himself, and he’s eager to do everything in his power, as he says, to help us win.’’
The Cubs need Darvish to have a bounce-back season. If he is healthy, left-hander Mike Montgomery likely will be bumped back to the bullpen, which would give manager Joe Maddon more flexibility with his relievers.
Maddon, who said he has heard ‘‘nothing but good things’’ about Darvish’s progress this offseason, indicated he is eager to evaluate him when camp starts.
‘‘We’ll see once he gets to camp . . . where he is physically, specifically,’’ Maddon said.
On Thursday, Darvish paid a visit to his former Japanese team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, who spend part of their spring training in Scottsdale, Arizona. He seemed to be in a good mood and was smiling while talking to some of their players.
It was a nice break from his workouts, but it’s go time next week.
‘‘If I’m healthy the whole year, I think I can help the team,’’ Darvish said.
Maddon echoed Darvish’s belief.
‘‘This guy is a difference-maker,’’ he said. ‘‘And if we can get him out there with any regularity, heads up.’’