Mets hope Igarashi can solidify setup role

Mets hope Igarashi can solidify setup role

NEW YORK -- Duaner Sanchez, Aaron Heilman, J.J. Putz, Billy Wagner, Heath Bell, Roberto Hernandez, Guillermo Mota, Joe Smith, Jorge Julio, Chad Bradford, Matt Wise, Ambiorix Burgos, Darren Oliver, Scott Schoeneweis, Jorge Sosa, Luis Ayala, Ricardo Rincon, Ken Takahashi and Darren O'Day have come and gone during the Mets' past four seasons. And some of them have had their moments in a setup relief role. Now a new and mostly unfamiliar name has been added to the roster and assigned the role. Ryota Igarashi has joined the Mets and will be part of a new bridge to Francisco Rodriguez.

The club announced Thursday it had signed the 30-year-old right-handed reliever from Japan to a two-year contract and thereby addressed one of its primary needs. Igarashi pitched 11 seasons with the Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Central League, serving as a reliever exclusively in 507 games.

The deal is reportedly worth $3 million, with Igarashi getting $1.25 million next season and $1.75 million in 2011. He can earn an additional $500,000 in performance bonuses over two years

"We've had an interest in Ryota for two years," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said in a statement Thursday. "He's got a power arm and an outstanding split-finger [fastball]."

The Mets' 2009 season ended with the setup role not clearly defined. Wagner had made two appearances in August after his return from surgery. Putz had made 29 before a need for surgery developed in early June. Otherwise, Jerry Manuel mixed and matched relievers -- Pedro Feliciano, Bobby Parnell, Brian Stokes, Sean Green, Takahashi -- with mixed results. Only Feliciano, the primary left-handed reliever, provided consistent results. And no one has been identified since the end of the season as the eighth-inning pitcher, as Putz was when he was acquired last December.

Igarashi produced a 3-2 record, three saves and a 3.19 ERA in 56 games in his most recent season. He allowed 42 hits and 20 walks and struck out 44 in 53 2/3 innings. After he recovered from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2007, he pitched 44 games in 2008, producing a 2.47 ERA, 3-2 record and three saves in 43 2/3 innings. He established a career-best 37 saves in '04 and won a career-high 11 games in 2000. Igarashi pitched in 60 or more games from 2002-04.

His career numbers include a 47-29 record with 54 saves and a 3.25 ERA in 507 games. He struck out 630 in 570 innings, an average of 9.95 strikeouts per nine innings.

"I have known Isao O'Jimi [the Mets scout in Japan] since I was in high school," Igarashi said through an interpreter. "When I received the Mets' offer, there was no doubt in my mind that this was the team I wanted to go to and start my career in the United States. I am looking forward to playing in New York and pitching in the same bullpen as Francisco Rodriguez."

He will be the 10th Japanese-born player in Mets history. The others were: Takashi Kashiwada (1997), Hideo Nomo (1998), Masato Yoshii (1998-99), Satoru Komiyama (2002), Tsuyoshi Shinjo (2001, '03), Kazuhisa Ishii (2005), Shinjo Takatsu (2005), Kazuo Matsui (2004-06) and Takahashi last season.

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.