When the Yankees signed pitcher Kei Igawa to a 23 million dollar contract, they didn’t envision the left-hander spending the length of his contract in Triple-A Scranton. With time running out, the Yankees are taking another direction to find a use for Igawa: the bullpen.
With the idea of using Igawa as a possible left-handed specialist, he will now begin the transition from starter (where he’s arguably been very good in Scranton) to the bullpen. It’s a switch we’ve seen happen in Scranton before. It wasn’t that long ago that Joba Chamberlain made his relief debut in Scranton-Wilkes/Barre.
The transition isn’t expected to be easy for Igawa who is familiar with the starting role.
“Obviously, there’s a difference,” Igawa said through an interpreter. “It’s a lot harder to prepare as a reliever. I’m trying to adjust.”
The move is a long time coming as far as I’m concerned. It was pretty clear early on that Igawa wasn’t likely to break into the rotation. Even in the 2010 Spring Training, Igawa barely made it halfway through camp and wasn’t really in consideration for a the 5th spot that eventually went to Hughes.
“We want him to adjust to that role and become effective in getting out left-handed hitters,” said Mark Newman, the Yankees vice president of baseball operations. “We think that’s the way he can be effective in New York.”
Perhaps even more important than the thoughts of Newman, is what Igawa thought about having to make the change.
“What the Yankees are thinking, I respect,” Igawa said. “I try to go with it. As long as I get to pitch in the big leagues, which is my objective for the season, I don’t really mind what kind of role I’m in.”
That being said, if successful, when will Igawa see time with the big league club? If all goes well, it’s certainly possible he could come up as a second left-handed option. He can’t come up, however, just to make the most out of his contract. Cashman and the Yankees will not bring him up “just because” if the bullpen can maintain success with just one left-hander available.
Also, with Boone Logan also competing for a similar type of role, it’s possible Igawa won’t see time in the majors until the rosters expand to 40 in September. Only time will tell, but it just might be too little, too late to get anything out of Igawa’s contract now.