Cubs’ Darvish says pressure is off this year

MESA, Ariz. — Saying he’s in a better place both mentally and physically this spring, Chicago Cubs righty Yu Darvish is looking to rebound after a season to forget in 2018. Poor performance gave way to an elbow injury last season, but he says that’s all behind him now.

Darvish was asked if the situation was weighing on him last year after signing a six-year, $126 million contract with the Cubs.

“At that time, I didn’t say anything about that, but definitely I was thinking about, ‘I have to do something for the Cubs like win 20 games or something,'” Darvish said Wednesday. “This year I want to be myself.”

Darvish, who was raised in Japan, spoke to reporters in English — another sign he’s feeling more comfortable in his surroundings — after throwing his first bullpen session of the spring. He declared himself 100 percent ready for the new season while continuing to open up about his feelings over the past 12 months, something his manager took note of.

“It’s always impressive when someone exposes themselves,” manager Joe Maddon stated after workouts for the day were over. “It’s not easy to do so. I give him credit for that. It’s a part of moving forward, I think. … We all need to spill it out there once in a while to heal. I’m glad that he did that.”

Darvish, a four-time All-Star, went 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA in 2018 before going down with an elbow injury. Starts and stops in his comeback attempt exasperated fans, and eventually he was shut down after just eight big league outings. He said he finally started to feel like himself again late last year, with the injury behind him and a year in Chicago under his belt — though it was a rough one.

“I’m looking forward to doing something [positive] this year,” Darvish said. “My mental [state] is way better than last year too. … I want to stay healthy and make 32-33 starts. I want to win more for the Cubs.”

They could use him. The rotation is talented but aging, and health will be a key component to its success.

“If you slide him in there, it just makes our rotation even deeper,” teammate Jon Lester said. “It’s a huge boost for us if we get the Darvish that we all know. Hopefully everything is behind him.”

Maddon added: “He just looks good. He seems more comfortable.”

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