YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — Now that speculation about Yu Darvish moving to a major league team is starting to intensify, the Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher is becoming slightly less reluctant to talk about a future outside of Japan.
The New York Yankees, New York Mets and Detroit Tigers are among several major league teams that have been scouting the talented right-hander for years. But the attention has increased recently amid speculation that the Ham Fighters may make him available through the posting system at the end of this season.
"Good attention is never a bad thing by any means. I am aware of the attention (from major league teams) by what I see in the newspapers," Darvish said in an interview with The Associated Press. "All I can do at this point is pitch to the best of my ability so I can live up to the expectations of the fans and anyone else."
The 23-year-old Darvish, whose mother is Japanese and father is Iranian, wouldn't be eligible to sign with a major league team as a free agent until after the 2013 season.
"Right now, I'm just focused on helping my team win this season," said Darvish. "Once the season is over, I'll consider my future."
But the Fighters could get a quick infusion of cash by posting Darvish after the 2010 season. Under the same system, the Seibu Lions received $51 million from the Boston Red Sox in 2006 just for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Many sports teams in Japan have been feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, and the Fighters are no different. In a move seen by many as cost-cutting, Nippon Ham is the only team in Japan without foreign position players this year — although it does have three foreign pitchers.
Darvish has never outwardly expressed much interest in playing in the majors, saying he is perfectly happy in Japan. But his experiences at the 2009 World Baseball Classic, where he got to know major leaguers Ichiro Suzuki and Matsuzaka, could have changed his thinking.
"It was a great experience for me," said Darvish, who helped Japan to its second straight WBC title. "I got to know both players and it was a great environment in which to play baseball."
Then there are the injury concerns. Darvish has had back problems in the past and sat out Saturday's game against the Yomiuri Giants with a sore right knee.
He says the knee is fine and he'll make his next regular start as scheduled, but if he waits three more years to go to Major League Baseball, his best years could be behind him.
The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Darvish is younger than Matsuzaka, has better control and with seven effective pitches, including a new two-seam fastball introduced this season, it's expected he would make a top-of-the-rotation major league starter.
He opened this season by becoming only the third pitcher in his league to strike out 10 or more batters in five consecutive games.
Suffering from a lack of run support from the last-place Fighters, he is 4-4 but has 95 strikeouts and a league-leading 1.67 ERA from 11 games this season.
His best season so far was 2007 when he went 15-5 with 210 strikeouts and a 1.82 ERA in 26 games.
One concern for major league teams is his pitch count. Darvish has surpassed 140 pitches in five of his 11 starts this season including a season-high of 156 on May 8. Numbers like that would be unthinkable in the major leagues where pitch counts of 100 are strictly adhered to.
"The pitch count is a bit of a concern," Darvish said. "But up until this season, I wasn't a high pitch count pitcher by Japanese standards, so I try not to worry about it too much."
Former Cleveland Indians outfielder Alex Ramirez, a two-time Central League most valuable player with the Yomiuri Giants, thinks Darvish will have no trouble making the transition to the majors if he chooses to go.
"If Matsuzaka can get 18 wins in the States like he did a couple of years ago, I think this guy can do better," Ramirez said. "Matsuzaka is a great pitcher and he's got good stuff, but this guy throws harder and has better control."
Darvish's mother, Ikuyo, met his father, Farzad, at Eckerd College in Florida, where Farzad played football (soccer).