Yu Darvish hasn't taken the mound in a big league game since 2014; fortunately, it looks like his absence is coming to an end. The Rangers' right-hander missed the entire 2015 due to a torn UCL which required Tommy John surgery, but he's been making steady progress, and just yesterday, he made his first rehab start.
"Darvish, admittedly relieved to clear this hurdle on the way to an expected return later this month, threw 32 pitches over two innings of Frisco's Double A game against Corpus Christi, and he reported no physical problems in the immediate aftermath.
In his first game action since Aug. 9, 2014, Darvish allowed no hits, struck out two and walked one. Another reached base off a fielding error committed by third baseman Garrett Weber."
While this ultimately amounts to just two innings, it's undoubtedly an enormous step for Darvish, both physically and mentally. From a pure pitching standpoint, the fact that he was able to touch 97 MPH in his first rehab start is incredibly encouraging. From the mental side, coming back from an injury can have a lasting impact on the psyche of an athlete, and while Darvish didn't seem to have any issues, he did say he was worried about his elbow going into his start.
"'Seriously, I hoped that I was not going to blow my elbow,' Darvish said. 'That's what I was thinking. That was my first concern. I'm very happy about my outing."
If all goes well in his next rehab starts, Darvish could very well rejoin the Rangers' rotation by the end of May. As of this writing, Texas is ranked 23rd in terms of starting pitcher fWAR, although both Derek Holland and A.J. Griffin have sub-three ERA's at the moment; but the chances of their respective values staying that low seems unlikely.
Cole Hamels has struggled with his control thus far in 2016, and is walking 4.50 batters per nine innings. The bottom of their rotation is filled out by Martin Perez (4.20 ERA, 5.13 FIP), and Colby Lewis (3.19 ERA, 5.78 FIP). When Darvish is ready to return, it seems like a safe bet that either Perez or Lewis will get bumped from the rotation, but the Rangers have a couple weeks to figure out the exact logistics.