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03/23/09 5:48 PM ET

Igawa impressive, but sent to Minors

Yanks advise lefty to continue preparing as starting pitcher

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Yankees reassigned left-hander Kei Igawa to Minor League camp on Monday, congratulating him on his spring and advising him to keep up the good work as a starting pitcher.

The move came one day after Igawa allowed his first earned run of the spring, walking in a run with the bases loaded in the Yanks' 5-0 Grapefruit League loss to the Rays at Port Charlotte, Fla.

That free pass snapped a streak of 9 2/3 scoreless innings vs. Major League teams this spring and 12 2/3 innings in all games, including three scoreless innings on March 5 against Team Canada.

"I thought he did a really good job most of Spring Training," manager Joe Girardi said. "I thought this was probably his best."

The Yankees have seen underwhelming returns thus far on their $46 million investment in the 29-year-old Igawa, who came to the United States from Japan's Central League in December 2006. In addition to a five-year, $20 million contract, New York also paid the Hanshin Tigers a $26 million posting fee.

At the Minor League levels, Igawa has been sharp. He was 14-6 with a 3.45 ERA in 26 games (24 starts) for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, earning Pitcher of the Year honors as he led the team in wins, starts, innings pitched (156 1/3) and strikeouts (117).

But Igawa's contributions at the Major League level have been nearly non-existent. In parts of two Major League seasons, Igawa has gone 2-4 with a 6.66 ERA in 16 games (13 starts), and is no longer a member of the Yankees' 40-man roster.

"It's been really tough, having to move back and forth between the Majors and the Minors," Igawa said last week. "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."

With Igawa out of the mix, the Yanks would select a long reliever and spot starter from a group that includes Alfredo Aceves, Dan Giese and Brett Tomko. Girardi said that the organization's parting words were for Igawa to continue to prepare as a starter.

"We envision him being in the rotation, and you're never sure exactly how things are going to shake out here," Girardi said. "Right now, that's what we told him we envision and we'll move forward."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.