By Jon Herskovitz
ROUND ROCK, Texas (Reuters) - Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish went four strong innings in a rehabilitation start on Thursday as he edges closer to a return to the Majors after missing last season due to elbow surgery.
Darvish, who dazzled Major League Baseball after arriving from Japan in 2012 and was a Cy Young runner-up the following year, is being brought along patiently from Tommy John surgery that scuttled his 2015 campaign.
Wearing number 75 for the Round Rock Express, the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate located near Austin, Darvish got off to a rough first inning, walking the first two batters he faced, in a start against the Oklahoma City Dodgers.
He gave up one unearned run in the first when Express centerfielder Jared Hoying dropped an easy fly ball.
Darvish settled down in the second inning, striking out the side and unleashing a hard curve that froze batters. He then set down the side in order in the third.
Darvish gave up a lead-off home run to open the fourth but retired the next three batters.
The three-time All Star, who was scheduled to pitch up to four innings on Thursday, finished with four strikeouts, surrendering the one hit.
"I feel like I have built up strength in my elbow," Darvish told reporters after his third rehab start since surgery on his right elbow in March last year.
"My curveball was working well tonight."
The Rangers, batting for the lead in the American League West, are looking for Darvish to return in the next few weeks to bolster their starting rotation.
"The most important thing for me is to build up the pitch count and that will help me build up confidence," he said through a translator. "I was throwing nice and easy and still able to hit 94 and 95 mph."
Darvish gave no timetable on when he is expected to return to the Rangers.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)