MESA, Ariz. – After his first official bullpen session of the spring, Yu Darvish provided at least one reason to think he could be in store for a big turnaround this season – admitting his six-year, $126 million contract got in his head at times last year.
“Last year I didn’t say anything about that, but definitely I was thinking about I had to do something for the Cubs. I should win 20 games or something,” Darvish said Wednesday as Cubs pitchers and catchers participated in first official workouts.
Between that and an injury saga that dragged from May 20 until the end of the season, the four-time All-Star experienced his worst season in the majors.
As he opens camp, he said the arm feels good, he feels stronger than ever after a winter workout program and he no longer feels that first-year, big-contract pressure.
“I want to be myself [now],” he said.
Teammates say they’ve noticed a different comfort level in Darvish’s body language already – including Jon Lester, who can identify with the big-contract phenomenon.
“That first year is a little tough, but I think everybody handles it in a different way,” said Lester, who struggled early in 2015, the first year of his $155 million deal. “It’s a personal thing; it’s something you have to eventually move on from.
“You try to live up to your contract every start, and you can’t do that. You have to put that behind you as best you can, and obviously, it was a little harder for him with his arm [injury].
“He seems in a better place physically and mentally so that’s a boost for us, and I’m excited for us.”
Notes: Manager Joe Maddon said David Bote enters camp as his backup shortstop to Javy Baez (with Addison Russell serving a domestic violence suspension the first month of the season). …Bote will also see time this spring at third and second, part of a second base mix that figures to include a heavy dose of newcomer Daniel Descalso and a sprinkling of Ben Zobrist.
–Non-roster pitcher Junichi Tazawa has been delayed in Japan by visa issues. He’s expected to join camp Feb. 20.
–Right-hander Kendall Graveman, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery, was put on the 60-day injured list, as expected.
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