Yu Darvish’s next stop on his road back to the major leagues is Dell Diamond.
The Texas Rangers’ three-time All Star and 2013 Cy Young Award runner-up will make an injury rehab start on Friday night in the Express series opener against New Orleans, scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
Darvish’s first-ever appearance in Round Rock could attract a sellout crowd; the 6-foot-5-inch starting pitcher from Japan is wildly popular with Rangers fans and the Asian-American community. He’s likely to throw about 45 pitches.
“He’ll be on a tight pitch count and probably go three innings,” Express manager Jason Wood said. “They’ll slowly build up his stamina. I’m guessing we’ll have him for a couple of starts in the next home stand.”
Starting Friday, Round Rock has eight consecutive games at Dell, meaning Darvish should draw a second appearance May 11 in a weekday matinee game against Oklahoma City. He could throw 60 pitches that day.
Darvish, 29, is recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery in March 2015. He’ll work his way up to about 90 pitches before rejoining the Rangers in late May.
He made his first rehab start Sunday for Frisco, throwing 32 pitches and two shutout innings against the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Astros’ Double-A team.
“Seriously, I hoped I was not going to blow my elbow. That was my first concern,” Darvish told reporters through a translator. “I’m very happy about my outing because I came away with no problem.”
Darvish fired 24 two-seam fastballs at an average velocity of 94.3. He topped out at 97. He also had good break on the curve in allowing no hits with one walk and two strikeouts before exiting to a standing ovation.
“I am glad the fans did not forget me for not pitching for more than a year,” he said.
The Rangers hope to keep all his rehab starts at either Round Rock or Frisco, their top two farm clubs.
Darvish can be huge for Texas, the defending American League West champion. In 2013, his last full season, he led the majors with 277 strikeouts and allowed a league-low 6.2 hits per nine innings. He is 39-25 with a 3.27 ERA for the Rangers after seven dominating years in Japan (93-38 with a 1.99 ERA).
The Express expected to have another rehabbing former All-Star this weekend, too, but Josh Hamilton suffered a setback in his surgically repaired left knee in his first rehab game for Frisco. The 34-year-old outfielder will be shut down for five days, then re-evaluated.