It took some time, but Yu Darvish is finally ready to take the mound for the Texas Rangers.
The right-hander will come off the disabled list looking to continue his success against the Tampa Bay Rays and help the Rangers avoid getting swept Sunday at Tropicana Field.
Darvish hasn't faced any hitters since March 16 in spring training, but Texas manager Ron Washington feels his ace is as strong as he was before neck stiffness prevented him from throwing for two weeks. He could be good for around 100 pitches in his season debut.
"Once his neck wasn't bothering him anymore, we saw the same stuff we saw in Arizona," Washington said. "He didn't back up any. He's still as strong as an ox."
Darvish finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting last season when he went 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA in 32 starts and led the majors with 277 strikeouts. He opened his second season in spectacular fashion last April when he fanned 14 and came one out from a perfect game in a 7-0 win at Houston.
Darvish is 9-1 with a 2.26 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 71 2-3 innings in 11 lifetime April starts.
He's 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in three starts versus Tampa Bay (4-2), but now must help keep the Rangers (2-3) from getting swept at Tropicana Field for the first time since Aug. 16-18, 2010.
Texas led 4-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday, but James Loney delivered a go-ahead, two-run double that helped the Rays to their third consecutive victory, 5-4.
"I really felt good about James right there,'' Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "He's calm, but he's got that thing going on inside. It definitely burns. He wants to win and he wants to play well."
Loney had two hits and Matt Joyce and Yunel Escobar each homered for Tampa Bay. Escobar, who is 3 for 7 in the set, agreed to a two-year extension through 2016 worth a guaranteed $13 million prior to the game.
Joyce is 7 for 13 with five RBIs in five games, but 1 for 6 with three strikeouts versus Darvish.
Tampa Bay's Alex Cobb (0-1, 7.20 ERA) hopes for a better effort in this contest after he allowed a three-run, first-inning homer, then one more run and walked four in five innings of a 4-2 loss to Toronto on Tuesday.
"You try to make adjustments and at the same time, get through what you can get through," Cobb told the Rays' official website. "Try to eat up as many innings as you can and make adjustments on the fly. It's not the easiest thing. You really try to really mentally go through what's going on in between innings and make the adjustments and I just wasn't able to figure that out."
The right-hander is 1-0 with a 3.79 ERA in three starts against the Rangers.
Texas outfielder Alex Rios is batting .368 (7 for 19) with five RBIs, and is 3 for 7 versus Cobb.
Teammate Elvis Andrus had three hits Saturday and is 7 for 20 (.350) while hitting safely in all five games. He's 11 for 24 with seven RBIs in his last six against the Rays.