PEORIA, Ariz. — Yu Darvish returned from his time serving as the elder statesman and pitcher for a baseball team that made its country proud. He hugged his teammates, acknowledging to some that he was tired. He showed a few his gold medal.
And then he declared it was time to get to work at his day job.
“That’s kind of in the past now, now that we’re here,” Darvish said in regard to the World Baseball Classic on his first morning at the Peoria Sports Complex.
What he does and when he does it and how much he can do for the Padres early on are still to be determined.
He hopes to throw four innings in one of the Padres’ remaining Cactus League games, the final one of those being Monday. Where Darvish would have been the likely opening-day starter, especially with Joe Musgrove out with a fractured toe, early indications are the Padres plan for him to start the fifth or sixth game of the season. It appears Blake Snell is lined up to start opening day, March 30 against the Rockies at Petco Park.
Darvish arrived in Phoenix on a flight from Miami on Wednesday, the day after Japan beat the United States 3-2 in the final of the WBC — the country’s third title and the second that Darvish has been a part of.
In this WBC, he was as much a mentor to Japan’s young pitchers as he was a contributor on the field.
“The role for me was a little bit different this time around just being the oldest on the team,” said Darvish, who was also on the 2009 WBC winner. “But both experiences, they were both beautiful.”
It is how that role unfolded that caught the Padres somewhat by surprise, especially the two relief appearances that meant he is not stretched out adequately to begin the season as he normally would.
Darvish pitched three innings in a start March 10, two innings in a relief appearance March 15 and one inning of relief in Tuesday’s final. In all, he threw 93 pitches in WBC games. (He did throw several additional pitches in the bullpen on the days he served as a reliever.)
By this point in a regular spring training, Darvish would have made at least three starts and be up above four innings.
“It’s little bit concerning just because it was a unique sort of spring training,” Darvish said through interpreter Shingo Horie. “Team Japan was trying to win the whole thing there, and because of those reasons, I wasn’t able to build up as I would if you’re in a regular spring training, so there is a little bit concern there.”
The Padres have been diplomatic and optimistic in their assessment of the situation, expressing pleasure for Darvish’s accomplishment and professing their trust in his ability to be ready and at his best for the season. Manager Bob Melvin and others have repeatedly said if anyone can adapt, it will be Darvish.
“Very appreciative,” Darvish said of the Padres’ approving his departing for Japan to train there in early February. “I think they trusted me going there and (missing) miss spring training and all that. I’m very thankful that they allowed me to do this.”