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If no deal is finalized, Darvish returns to the Fighters for another season.

Two months ago, the Rangers let a championship slip away. They don’t want the same thing to happen with Darvish.

In a statement released before the conference call, the Rangers said they were “pleased and excited” to win the rights to negotiate with Darvish.

“Our organization has scouted Mr. Darvish for the last several years and has been very impressed with his abilities and accomplishments. We believe he would be a great addition to the Texas Rangers pitching staff,” the team said. “We look forward to beginning the next step of this process in the very near future.”

Darvish, the son of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA last season. He had 276 strikeouts to lead the Pacific League.

The Fighters gave him approval to negotiate with a major league club through the posting system. Matsuzaka and Ichiro Suzuki went to the majors under the same system.

Darvish pitched in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was a member of the Japanese national team that won the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

The 6-foot-5 Darvish has superb control and throws seven effective pitches. It’s expected he would make a front-line major league starter, though the MLB track record of Japanese aces is shaky.

Darvish is the No. 1 pitcher in Japan, but we want him to become the ace of the world,” Nippon Ham team representative Toshimasa Shimada said this month.

Darvish turned pro in 2005 at 18. His professional career got off to a rocky start when he was caught smoking in a pachinko parlor on an off day during his first spring training, despite not being old enough to legally smoke nor to gamble at the time.

In 2007, Darvish won the Eiji Sawamura Award presented to the top pitcher in Japanese professional baseball after posting a 15-5 record with a 1.82 ERA and a league-leading 210 strikeouts.

The Red Sox signed Matsuzaka in 2006 to a six-year, $52 million contract, taking the total package _ including the posting fee _ to more than $100 million.


Associated Press Writer Terry Wallace in Dallas and AP Sports Writer Jim Armstrong in Tokyo contributed to this report.