Igawa heeds Guidry's advice
Japanese lefty delivers best performance of spring
TAMPA, Fla. -- On the day Kei Igawa was introduced at Yankee Stadium, general manager Brian Cashman cautioned that the hurler's first season in the United States would be a period of transition, with the Japanese left-hander making countless adjustments.
Some tweaks are coming quicker than others. After battling command issues over his first three Spring Training appearances, Igawa followed pitching coach Ron Guidry's advice to better finish his delivery, allowing him to pin his pitches down in the zone.
The effort flowed into Igawa's sharpest performance as a Yankee. Igawa blanked the Phillies over five innings on Tuesday night at Legends Field, allowing just two hits in New York's 2-0 Grapefruit League victory.
Yankees manager Joe Torre said that he has been pleased by Igawa's continued progress. With two starts likely remaining before the regular season, Igawa has come a long way from a shaky March 5 debut against the Tigers, in which he lasted just one-plus inning.
"Each outing, you can take something from it," Torre said. "Last outing, even though his command wasn't good, I thought his slider was real good. Tonight, it just looked like all his pitches were working. And again, we're not finished yet."
Igawa threw 38 of 65 pitches for strikes, walking three and striking out three. The start was far more economical than his previous one, a March 15 outing against the Braves in which Igawa used 62 pitches to squeak through three innings.
"I think he'll probably sleep better tonight," Torre said. "He's been frustrated with the fact that he knows he can do better. That's what's tough about being a starting pitcher; you've got to wait five or six days for your next time."
Igawa had shown flashes of dominance in his Grapefruit League starts, but they were often obscured with counts that placed him at a disadvantage behind hitters. Igawa has allowed four runs in 12 innings, but he has also struck out a team-high 15 this spring.
"Results are important, but as of now, I just want to prove and learn my way of pitching -- the style," Igawa said through translator Yumi Watanbe. "That's the important thing right now."
The next step, Torre said, would likely be a six-inning effort projected at 85 pitches.
With 24-year-old Jeff Karstens campaigning for a rotation slot, Igawa may have needed a strong game to quell any lingering doubts about his status in the rotation, keeping Karstens shooting toward a role as a long reliever and spot starter.
On Monday, Torre floated the idea that Igawa could begin the year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, adding fuel to that fire. But his performance against Philadelphia showed a microcosm of what could translate to the Bronx, sparing Igawa a trip to Lackawanna County.
Igawa changed speeds well and made good use of a slider that rescued him from a few tough counts, and even continued his dominance of dangerous Phillies slugger Ryan Howard.
Igawa recalled facing Howard three times during the United States' tour of Japan after the 2006 season, retiring the reigning National League MVP all three times with one strikeout. Howard was retired twice more on Tuesday, flying out to center field and grounding to first.
"I was able to throw the ball low, and that's the good part about today," Igawa said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.