GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Yu Darvish may end up with more stiffness in his neck from jerking his head to watch a couple of the home runs he gave up on Saturday afternoon.
Otherwise, he was strong and as sharp as he has been all spring over five innings against the Reds and is back on track to be the Rangers No. 2 starter when the season begins.
Darvish, pitching in a Cactus League game for the first time since March 11, allowed two runs on three hits against the most of the Reds' regular lineup in the Rangers' 6-2 victory at Goodyear Ballpark. He walked one and struck out five while throwing 78 pitches. The only runs came on a first-inning home run by Joey Votto and another leading off the fifth from Todd Frazier.
"I thought it went really well," Darvish said. "I could have pitched a little longer, but I'm right on schedule."
Darvish, who was skipped in his last start on Monday against the Royals due to stiffness in his neck, will make one more start before the regular season. He pitches against Mexico City on Thursday at the Ballpark in Arlington and then makes his first start of the regular season on April 2 against the Astros.
"As far as my pitch sequences, they aren't closer to what I do during the regular season," Darvish said. "But, I think I'm ready to start the season."
"I feel he's ready," catcher Geovany Soto said. "He was using his fastball on both sides of the plate and his offspeed stuff is there. He was there today. His command has been really good, I was really pleased to see that."
His pitch sequence against Votto wasn't too astute. Darvish, with the count 0-1, fooled Votto with a slow curve for strike two. After missing with a slider, Darvish threw another slow curve and Votto crushed it over the grass berm beyond the right-center field wall.
"It's still going," manager Ron Washington said.
Votto said something to Soto as he took off around the bases. The crowd roared and Votto put one finger to his lips as he crossed home plate. Darvish smiled on the mound.
"He put a good swing on the ball, that was good hitting," Darvish said. "I don't know what he meant by that, but one of my teammates told me. I wasn't too concerned about it. I was able to get him out the second and third time around."
Votto struck out his next two times against Darvish.
"I was just fooling with the crowd," Votto said about his hush gesture. "It's Spring Training and we're having fun, there's nothing really to it."
Frazier's home run came on an 0-2 pitch and caught Darvish by surprise.
"I thought it was a pop fly," Darvish said. "I was surprised it went into the stands."
Other than a bout of neck stiffness and a couple of long home runs, everything else has gone well for Darvish this spring. He has now pitched 14 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on eight hits. He has walked three, struck out 15 and opponents are hitting a paltry .167 against him. The lack of walks has been most impressive. Darvish walked eight in 15 innings last spring.
"I have better control than last year," Darvish said. "More than my physical level, though, I'm more relaxed the second time around."
Darvish has made all the adjustments that he has needed and he has had an excellent spring. Darvish said there is only one thing left to do before the start of the season.
"Just don't get hurt," he said.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.