51s’ Igarashi letting pitching speak for him

51s relief pitcher Ryota Igarashi and manager Marty Brown communicate mostly in Janglish, a blend of broken Japanese and broken English.

"I know enough Japanese to get by, and he knows enough English to get by," said Brown, who managed five years in Japan and whose wife, Kyoko, is Japanese. "Between he and I, we speak a lot of Janglish."

Not that Brown has had to explain much to Igarashi this season.

A five-time All-Star in Japan, the hard-throwing right-hander has been dominant in seven appearances for the 51s, allowing a run on three hits in 7 2/3 innings, with 11 strikeouts and no walks.

"When you throw the ball this well, there’s not a lot of talk involved," Brown said. "He’s probably been our most consistent reliever."

Igarashi, 32, struck out the side against Colorado Springs in his last outing Saturday, hitting 97 mph on the radar gun at Cashman Field, where Las Vegas was beaten by the Sky Sox 14-2 on Monday.

After spending 11 seasons with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Central League, Igarashi signed a $3 million, two-year contract with the New York Mets in December 2009.

Slated to be a setup man for closer Francisco Rodriguez, Igarashi struggled with his control in New York, walking 46 while striking out 67 in 69 innings the past two seasons.

He went 4-1 with a 4.66 ERA for the Mets last year – after going 1-1 with a 7.12 ERA in 2010 – before being released by the team in October.

"The level of baseball played in the major leagues was far higher than he expected," Igarashi said through his agent, Sinya, who acted as a translator on Igarashi’s cellphone.

Igarashi signed with the Pirates in December as a minor league free agent, but Pittsburgh traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays on March 30 for cash and a player to be named.

"He’s slowly starting to put himself on the map (in Toronto)," Brown said. "People know the kind of stuff he has now. His velocity, command of his fastball and curveball, and the fact, experience-wise, he knows how to pitch."

Bouncing back and forth last season between the Mets and Triple-A Buffalo, Igarashi thrived for the Bisons, compiling a 0.87 ERA with 34 strikeouts and nine walks in 31 innings.

His success isn’t surprising to Brown, who was impressed by Igarashi in Japan, where he managed from 2006 to 2010.

"When I saw him over there, I thought this guy can pitch in the big leagues," he said. "Hopefully he can continue to show this type of consistency, and he’ll get that opportunity at some point."

Igarashi said he has improved his fastball and breaking ball, and added some offspeed pitches to his arsenal to help him in his quest to get back to the majors.

With his wife Orie and their two children – daughter Kotone and son Haruki – living in New York, Igarashi has no plans to return to his homeland anytime soon.

"Our conversations have been about him wanting to get back to the big leagues here at some point, and he’s pitching like that’s what he wants to do," Brown said. "There’s a subtle confidence to Igarashi that maybe in Japan could be looked at as arrogance.

"Maybe that’s why he likes the (United) States."

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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