When the Mets opened camp in mid-February, Kelvim Escobar was penciled in as the setup man. Because of Escobar’s injury history, the Mets signed fireballing Japanese closer Ryota Igarashi as a backup plan. On Planet Omar, it made plenty of sense to stack two high risks into the second-most vital bullpen role.
All the hype around the Japanese import suggested that it Minaya might have something in Igarashi. He came to the US with armed with a blazing fastball, drop-dead splitter, and both a slider and curve. At one point during the winter Igarashi excitedly told reporters that he wanted to sing “God Bless America” and hit 100 MPH on the radar gun (though not necessarily at the same time). As it turned out, Igarashi had trouble adjusting to American baseball – and possibly the baseball itself.
My original suggestion that Igarashi would wind up being somewhere between Jorge Julio and Fernando Rodney was close – depending on which of Julio’s seasons you refer to. Occasionally, Igarashi showed flashes of competency, but overall, he looked overwhelmed and overmatched. He never came close to reaching triple digits, but he did reach the mid-90s. However, his secondary stuff was nonexistent and he lacked command, serving up 18 walks in 30 innings. When he did throw strikes, he was hit hard – 12 of the 29 hits he allowed were for extra bases, including 4 homers.
The Mets signed Igarashi to a two-year deal, so they have him next year for $1.75M. Truthfully, there was never anything wrong with the signing – it was, in fact, a fairly strong pickup. The problem was with the expectation; he never should have been expected to fill a key bullpen role. The signing, associated fanfare, and first-season blues were startlingly reminiscent of the Kaz Matsui affair. However, for 2011 there are no expectations; Igarashi may not even be expected to make the big-league roster. That could play in his favor; like Matsui, Igarashi might have a better chance to succeed now that he has spent a year in the US and no longer has the pressure to succeed weighing on his shoulders.