By PETER ABRAHAM
THE JOURNAL NEWS


(Original publication: March 27, 2007)
TAMPA, Fla. - One Japanese pitcher has thrown 17 innings during spring training, allowing 13 hits and five earned runs. He has walked 12 and struck out 19.

Another Japanese pitcher has tossed 17 2/3 innings this spring. He has given up nine hits and four earned runs with seven walks and 19 strikeouts.

Care to guess which one is superstar-in-the-making Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Red Sox and which one is supposed rotation filler Kei Igawa of the Yankees?

Igawa is the first player. Statistics are only one tool to evaluate a player headed into the season. But based on the numbers, it seems the Yankees might have found themselves a bargain in Igawa, at least when compared to the $103 million the Red Sox spent to land Matsuzaka.

As Matsuzaka was throwing five no-hit innings against the Reds in Sarasota, Fla., yesterday, Igawa was throwing five effective innings against the Phillies at Legends Field. He allowed one run on three hits in a game the Yankees won 5-1.

After one final start in Florida, Igawa likely will start against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium in the second series of the season.

"I'm excited. But I still have to work on my changeup," Igawa said through translator Yumi Watanabe.

Igawa needed 87 pitches to get through five innings. He twice struck out All-Star second baseman Chase Utley, and he got slugger Ryan Howard looking at a slider.

"I don't know much about major-league hitters. I haven't got into that yet," he said. "Right now, I'm just working on my pitching."

The Yankees initially were worried that Igawa was overmatched. But he has improved steadily in each outing and allowed only one run in his last 10 innings, solidifying his place in the rotation.

"I've been pitching pretty well lately. I'm getting into my style of pitching. As I throw more, I'm getting better," he said. "A lot better."

Pitching coach Ron Guidry knew little about Igawa before the start of camp, only what he had read in scouting reports and watched on tape. It was only last week that the two agreed on what kind of routine the left-hander would undertake between starts.

"I think it's the progression of spring training," manager Joe Torre said. "His being comfortable is based on going to the mound. I think he's very comfortable with his surroundings and everything that's going on here.

"He's working on the right stuff right now. He understands what he needs."

Igawa has impressed the Yankees with his daring. He challenges hitters high in the strike zone with his fastball and will throw his slider and changeup in any count. The Phillies had only a few good swings against him.

"He appears deceptive. It looks like he makes pitches, and the hitters are a little behind or a little in front of it," Torre said. "He changes speeds, not only fastball to off-speed pitch, but his fastball is a little different all the time. To me, that's probably why he's been successful."

Igawa's performance was one of several positive developments for the pitching staff.

Andy Pettitte threw in the bullpen and reported no discomfort in his lower back. Tests on the stiff right elbow of Jeff Karstens also came back negative. He lasted only two innings in his start on Sunday.

"Today was a better day than yesterday," general manager Brian Cashman said.

After Igawa spoke to reporters from New York, he entertained questions from a few dozen members of the Japanese media, far fewer than the 150 who follow Matsuzaka.

Asked whether he was following the progress of his more celebrated countryman, Igawa shook his head.

"I'm getting ready for my season," he said. "That's all."