SURPRISE, Arizona (AP) — If Yu Darvish is feeling any pressure after leading the majors in strikeouts last season, it isn't showing.
The Texas Rangers ace was even in a joking mood Tuesday at spring training. Darvish wisecracked that the New York Yankees might have paid too much for fellow Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka by giving him a seven-year, $155 million contract on top of a $20 million posting fee to the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
The deal made Darvish No. 2 when it comes to Japanese players in the majors: He has a six-year, $56 million deal signed before the 2012 season after the Rangers paid $51.7 million to Hokkaido for the right to negotiate with him.
"I don't know the details of the posting system, but I think the Yankees gave him a little bit too much," Darvish said with a chuckle through his interpreter during his first spring training session with reporters. Even before the session was done, the remark was all over social media and the Rangers released a statement to make sure everyone knew Darvish was kidding.
"I am sorry if anyone took my comment seriously about Masahiro Tanaka at the press conference,"Darvish said in the statement. "I assumed by the reaction in the room that everyone knew I was joking."
The 27-year-old Darvish could opt out of his contact after five years if he wins a Cy Young Award and potentially get a contract exceeding that of Tanaka. He came close last year, finishing second to Max Scherzer in the balloting after leading the majors with 277 strikeouts - the most since Randy Johnson struck out 290 in 2004 with Arizona.
Darvish, who manager Ron Washington has already named the opening day starter, was 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA in 32 starts last season.
"If we score him runs, he might win 35 games and he's only going to get 32 starts," Washington said.
Darvish lost four 1-0 decisions, the first pitcher to do that in a season since Orel Hershiser with the 1989 Dodgers.
"Never once did he ever make any whimpers of, 'Boy it sure would be nice to get some runs,' never once," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "That's the kind of teammate he is. He's going to go out and do the best he can and wants everyone else to the best they can."
The Rangers averaged 3.08 runs per game in Darvish's final 23 starts.
"The game is something you can't control, so you can't be pessimistic or optimistic," Darvish said. "The main thing is to keep yourself healthy. If you're healthy enough, I think numbers are going to follow. The outcome is something that is a result of having a healthy season. I can't really control what goes on in a game situation."
Darvish went on the 15-day disabled list last July with a right shoulder strain and was bothered by back nerve irritation in September. Darvish said he shied away from heavy lifting during the offseason to help the back. His lack of fastball command, which gets his pitch count up early, has been a concern.
"You'll probably see during the course of the season how much I have improved," Darvish said. "I'm more relaxed and I can do many things at my own pace and I'm aware of what's going on and people know me better than in the past."
An improved Darvish could equate to a blockbuster contract. No joke.