SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) -- Yu Darvish felt a little awkward facing hitters in a game-like situation for the first time this spring.
The Texas Rangers' ace threw 13 pitches in his scheduled inning Monday in their first intrasquad game of spring training, and what mattered most is that Darvish's back felt good.
''It's been a while since I faced a hitter In a game situation,'' Darvish said through a translator. ''I felt no pain, and no discomfort, so I feel very good about it.''
The Japanese pitcher dealt with inflammation from nerve irritation in his lower back for the final six weeks last season, and still led the majors with 277 strikeouts while finishing second in the AL Cy Young Award voting. He had an injection for the problem two days after the season, then spent most of the offseason rehabbing at home.
''As far as my pitches go, there are good days and bad days, I don't think my back is still 100 percent, so a little bit inconsistent on my pitches,'' Darvish said, before quickly clarifying that to ease any concerns. ''It's 99.9 percent right now.''
Even with the back issues late last season, Darvish finished 13-9 with a 2.93 ERA over in 209 2-3 innings. He was the loser in four different 1-0 games during his second major league season.
Darvish threw seven of his 13 pitches for strikes while facing four batters. He struck out one, and the only batter that reached against him was on error when Darvish dropped a ball covering first base on a grounder to the right side.
The right-hander is also scheduled to start the Rangers' first exhibition game Thursday against Kansas City.
''He's really good. He's got a lot of weapons,'' new Texas catcher J.P. Arencibia said. ''He's so good, he can miss and get away with it. He's very, very good. A lot of fun to catch.''
The first batter Darvish faced was Kensuke Tanaka, a Japanese infielder who is in major league camp after signing a minor league deal in December. Tanaka took a called strike to start the game, and then on a 2-1 pitch sharply lined out to left.
Asked about facing Tanaka, Darvish said, ''it wasn't difficult, but I tried not to look at his face.''
Darvish said he threw only one slider. Asked if that was the pitch that he got his strikeout, Darvish didn't have to wait for the question to be translated into Japanese before motioning with a wrist action and responding, ''Yeah.''
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