MESA, Ariz. — The mound that Yu Darvish stood atop Sunday felt like a cozy home.
Entering his second season with the Cubs as he attempts to rebound from an injury-plagued 2018, Darvish said he felt a sense of comfort during a 45-pitch bullpen session.
It’s a stark contrast from last spring, when he was caught in a whirlwind of developments that started with a six-year, $126 million agreement with the Cubs but spun out of control with a right elbow injury that limited him to eight starts and season-ending surgery in September.
“Last year I didn’t know anyone,” Darvish said under sunny skies in front of the Cubs’ agility field. “I felt alone. But this year I know a lot of people, and I feel this is my place. That makes me more relaxed.”
Several unsuccessful rehab attempts left Darvish hopeless and somewhat elusive last year as he preferred to speak in his native Japanese and often was brief in his comments.
With a healthy arm and greater familiarity with his teammates and his organization, Darvish wasn’t shy about expressing his ambitions for 2019.
“I couldn’t do anything last year for the Cubs,” said Darvish, who conducted the interview in English. “I really love the fans and this organization. But I couldn’t do anything. I want to do something for Chicago and the Cubs.”
Darvish was candid last summer about the discomfort in his elbow that was initially diagnosed as an impingement, then a stress reaction that eventually led to surgery to remove debris.
The most encouraging aspect of Darvish’s workout Sunday was the sharpness of his pitches.
“I feel pretty good,” Darvish said. “My fastball was feeling powerful. The breaking ball is good too.”
Darvish’s September surgery allowed his elbow plenty of time to heal. He started throwing bullpen sessions in late January, a bit earlier than some starting pitchers.
And with the first official workout for pitchers and catchers not scheduled until Wednesday, Darvish was able to throw his bullpen session under a controlled setting without any time constraints.
In that situation, Darvish, 32, worked at a deliberate pace, often chatted with new pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and checked the quality of his pitches with support staff.
“We’re checking spin rate and (velocity), and then (comparing) last year in spring training (to) this year,” Darvish said. “Last year was 88 (mph) in bullpen — this year 91-92 mph. So my (velocity) was going up, and we were talking about that.”
With more bullpen sessions and exhibition games in the next six weeks, Darvish’s velocity should climb to the mid-90 mph range.
“My body feels way (better) than last year, and my stuff was good too,” Darvish said. “I have confidence.”