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Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish feeling strong, scheduled to make his season debut Sunday

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers only have to wait a few more days before the ace will be back on the mound.

Darvish is scheduled to make his season debut Sunday at Tampa Bay after getting through an extended bullpen session without any issues.

"He's ready to go," manager Ron Washington said Wednesday, when Darvish reported feeling good a day after throwing 86 pitches.

Washington said Darvish is as strong as he was before the neck stiffness that kept the pitcher from throwing for two weeks. Darvish was placed on the disabled list to start the season, though the move was retroactive to March 21, making the right-hander eligible to be activated this weekend.

PHOTO: Texas Rangers' Yu Darvish of Japan signs autographs for fans before an opening day baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Monday, March 31, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Texas Rangers' Yu Darvish of Japan signs autographs for fans before an opening day baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Monday, March 31, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

"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."

Tanner Scheppers, who started the opener and was scheduled for the series finale against the Rays, was pushed back to Monday at Boston, where he will be followed by Martin Perez and Robbie Ross against the Red Sox. Washington said there have been no decisions made past that trio that also started the first three games of the season.

Darvish last faced hitters in a game March 16 during spring training. Their expected opening-day starter didn't throw again until last Saturday, when he threw off flat ground and followed that a day later with a 32-pitch bullpen session. After not throwing opening day, he came back with the strong 86-pitch session Tuesday.

"He's still as strong as an ox," Washington said. "He still was darting up the gnats that were flying around home plate. You know how small a gnat is. He was knocking them down with consistency."

Darvish finished second in the AL Cy Young Award voting last season, when he led the major leagues with 277 strikeouts. In his season debut last year, in the second game of the season, Darvish came within one out of a perfect game at Houston.

Darvish could have been activated as early as Saturday, when right-hander Nick Martinez is scheduled to make his major league debut. Martinez has never pitched above the Double-A level and isn't even on the Rangers' 25-man roster yet.

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