Igawa auditioning for return to Majors
Spring work with Yankees drawing interest from other teams
TAMPA, Fla. -- Investing $46 million in Kei Igawa was a mistake. It is a statement that Brian Cashman confirms without hesitation, carrying an indelible mark on his resume as the Yankees' general manager.
No longer on the 40-man roster, Igawa reported to Spring Training as an afterthought, a virtually anonymous member on a star-studded staff. But 12 2/3 scoreless spring innings have opened some eyes for the Japanese left-hander.
While Igawa remains a long-shot candidate to break camp with New York, Cashman said that the 29-year-old's performance this spring is offering encouragement that he may eventually be able to find a niche someplace in the big leagues.
"It gives you hope," Cashman said. "He's a left-hander who's had a lot of success in Japan, and he's had success through the Triple-A level. Pitching in New York is a different animal. I venture to believe that he would have success elsewhere. Whether he can have success here, I don't know."
In several interviews with the Japanese media, Igawa has said that he considers his spring an opportunity to pitch for all 30 Major League teams, not just the Yankees. He said Saturday that he was not thinking about his chances in pinstripes.
"That's not something for me to worry about; that's something for the team to worry about," Igawa said through an interpreter. "The only concern I have is just throwing strikes and throwing good pitches."
Including a three-inning outing against Team Canada on March 5, Igawa has scattered seven hits in seven spring appearances, striking out 11. The outcome has drawn interest -- during the Yankees' game at Fort Myers, Fla., on Friday, professional scouts in attendance were said to be asking specifically about Igawa.
"He's had a heck of a spring," Cashman said. "He seems assertive, he's moving fast and he's throwing strikes. He's always had good stuff. His command hasn't been there. Now he's showing stuff with commitment."
Some of Igawa's success may be due to the fact he is facing some batters who will not begin the season on big league rosters. There is little left to prove at the lower levels for Igawa, who was 14-6 with a 3.45 ERA in 26 games (24 starts) for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year.
"He's conquered Triple-A," Cashman said. "What he hasn't shown in the past is the ability to conquer Major League settings, in Spring Training or the regular season. He's now hitting a good note in Spring Training, and he didn't do that before."
After appearing in 14 games for the Yankees in 2007, Igawa's services were called upon sparingly in 2008. Summoned to the Yankees as an emergency starter in Detroit on May 9, Igawa was hit hard, surrendering six runs and 11 hits in three innings. He appeared only once more in the big leagues.
But Igawa was a valuable member of the International League champion Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club, even earning "Pitcher of the Year" honors as he led the team in wins, starts, innings pitched (156 1/3) and strikeouts (117).
"It's been really tough, having to move back and forth between the Majors and the Minors," Igawa said. "Finally, last year, I was able to get into my own routine in the Minors and get into the rotation of pitching and conditioning. I think that's helped a lot."
A three-time strikeout champion in Japan's Central League, Igawa said that he has made more of a commitment to putting the ball in play.
"Because of the pitch count issue that we have in the States, I try to put the ball in play and get quick outs, throwing strikes," Igawa said. "Over there, I could just throw 150 pitches and go nine innings if I wanted to."
All things considered, writing off the $26 million posting fee and five-year, $20 million contract is easier for a franchise such as the Yankees. Igawa did not hinder spending on CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, which super-charged the rotation and rendered players such as Igawa to be organizational filler.
But the Yankees have admitted missteps. One of Cashman's first statements after the 2008 season was to reveal that changes had been made in their Pacific Rim scouting as a result of the Igawa signing.
Some knew there was a problem early. As recounted in Joe Torre's book, "The Yankee Years," former bullpen catcher Mike Borzello splashed cold water on high hopes for Igawa after just one first mound session.
"It was awful," Borzello is quoted as saying. "He maybe threw three strikes out of 25 pitches. The changeup was horrible. I was reaching all over the place for his pitches."
While a trade might best facilitate Igawa's desire to be a big league starter, it has proven difficult to locate a team willing to take on the remaining three years and $12 million of Igawa's deal. Asked Saturday if the Yankees had yet found any interest for Igawa, Cashman declined comment.
But seemingly in showcase mode, the Yankees have toyed with a variety of roles for Igawa. Manager Joe Girardi recently proclaimed him "in the mix" for a long relief and spot-starter job, joining candidates such as Alfredo Aceves, Dan Giese and Brett Tomko.
On Friday, Girardi even used Igawa as a closer for a spring save against the Twins. The route wasn't pretty, as Igawa allowed two walks and a hit, but he ended the game by inducing a double-play grounder to keep the scoreless streak alive.
"He's giving himself a chance, and giving his defense a chance to play behind him," Girardi said. "That's what you have to do. Not everyone can be a strikeout pitcher, so you have to let your defense play behind you, and he's doing a very good job of that."
Despite his troubles with the Yankees, Igawa said that he does not regret his decision to come to the United States. He said that his focus is continuing to work for another chance for success at the Major League level.
"As long as I can keep producing results, I'll be happy," Igawa said. "I want to be in the Majors so that I can pitch well, not just be there."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.