PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Ryota Igarashi threw in the bullpen on Wednesday and wowed no one. He moved to one of the mounds of the quadrangle and continued his work day, throwing to batters. The first day of live batting practice. Fastballs, curves, a cutter -- or was that a four-seamer with a more horizontal wrinkle than usual? -- a few splits. Nice array, Iggy. But nothing to write home about, especially when home is in Tokyo.
It wasn't a debut or any kind of test for Igarashi, it was nothing more than the second phase of preparation for bigger and badder batter situations. So he added a few MPH to his fastball when he got to on-the-field mound. What pitcher doesn't do that when a batter offers even a smidgeon of a challenge? What's to get excited about on Feb. 24?
"His eyes," one learned Mets observer said. "It sounds silly. But if you're around and you see it, you know what it means. It's the sign he likes to compete."
A sort of competition already is under way. The Mets haven't assigned the eighth-inning responsibility to anyone yet. And manager Jerry Manuel now says the issue of who precedes closer Frankie Rodriguez is the most significant one in camp. Bobby Parnell's fastball and slider are in the running, his inexperience serving as a weight. Kelvim Escobar came with the tag "eighth-inning guy" when he signed, but he has yet to throw because of weakness in his right shoulder. Sean Green and his new sub-sidearm delivery is a possibility, as he was last spring. And Igarashi, his 30-year-old right arm and his eyes, are very much in the race. They seemingly are in the lead at this early stage.
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Manuel enjoys creating competition, even when none exists. Here in the eighth-inning pitchoff, genuine candidates are involved. So not only is it real and the most significant, it may be the one that is not decided by default. If you listen to the Mets' whispers, Igarashi is who they want and who they expect to prevail.
His fastball is alive, and the split, a pitch foreign to most of the rest of the staff, could afford the Mets another late-inning look and the possibility of a crossover pitcher. Manuel wants that, and if all other factors are equal, he would prefer to have as many looks as possible coming out of the 'pen.
Pitching coach Dan Warthen sees a positive arrogance in Igarashi, an attribute that was developed during 10 years of pitching in Japan, an attribute he covets in relievers.
"He knows he's going to get you," Warthen said. "He's done it before, and he's confident he's going to do it again -- when it counts. ... Now all we've got to do is see him pitch."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.