Ryota Igarashi (五十嵐亮太)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 200 lb.
Ryota Igarashi was once the fastest pitcher in Nippon Pro Baseball. He signed a contract with the New York Mets for the 2010 season and pitched three seasons in the major leagues, with limited success.
Ryota was 6-4 with a save and a 4.91 ERA in 36 games as a rookie in 1999. He had won 11 games before the All-Star break his next season, 2000. He finished the year 11-4 with a save and a 3.11 ERA. He allowed only 42 hits in 75 1/3 IP for a .160 average and fanned 90, but walked 33. He made the Central League All-Star team for the first time.
Ryota suffered a couple of injuries in 2001, going 2-3 with a 2.59 ERA. He allowed a .172 average and struck out 51 in 41 2/3 IP while walking 28. He pitched one game in the 2001 Japan Series, giving up 3 runs in one inning in Game Two, a loss to the Kintetsu Buffaloes; Yakult won the Series, taking the other four contests.
The right-hander made 64 appearances in 2002 and was 8-2 with 4 saves and a 2.08 ERA. He held opponents to 49 hits in 78 innings and fanned 97. The lone negative was 8 wild pitches, leading the CL. He was again a CL All-Star while being used as a setup man for Shingo Takatsu.
The Hokkaido native was 5-5 with a 3.89 ERA in 2003, whiffing 83 in 74 innings and being named an All-Star again. He pitched in 66 games, leading the Central League.
When Takatsu left for the Chicago White Sox, the 24-year-old was handed the Swallows' closer job. Igarashi went 5-3 with 37 saves and a 2.66 ERA in 2004. He held opponents to a .210 average and struck out 86 in 74 1/3 IP. He led the CL in both saves and appearances (66). He made the All-Star team for the 4th time. He won the Fireman of the Year Award, which Takatsu had taken three times. Along with Hirotoshi Ishii, he formed the "Rocket Boys" bullpen, noted for their fastballs in the mid-90s. On June 3, he threw a 158 kph (98 mph) fastball, tying the Nippon Pro Baseball record for fastest pitch ever (held by Hideki Irabu and Kazuo Yamaguchi); Igarashi would hit that figure several more times in his career. The record didn't even last a year as Marc Kroon broke it in May of 2005.
Igarashi was injured early in 2005 and lost his closer job to Ishii. Returning to a setup role, he was 3-2 with 4 saves and a 3.49 ERA. He struck out 60 in 56 2/3 IP but walked 27 and allowed a .248 average. He made his fifth All-Star team. On April 6, he teamed with Shugo Fujii and Ishii to strike out 19 batters, a Nippon Pro Baseball record.
Igarashi returned to full form in 2008, throwing between 92-95 mph often. He was 3-2 with 3 saves and a 2.47 ERA In 44 games, with a career-best 0.94 WHIP. His strikeout rate was a bit off his peak, with 42 in 43 2/3 IP. The closer role had now gone to South Korean Chang-yong Lim.
The veteran hurler was 3-2 with 3 saves and a 3.19 ERA in 2009. He set a Yakult franchise record by not allowing a run in 21 consecutive games. Opponents hit .216 against him but he again failed to top a K per inning, his old standard, as he fanned 44 in 53 2/3 IP. He tied for 10th in the CL in appearances.
A free agent after the season, Igarashi expressed interest in pitching in Major League Baseball. On December 17, 2009, he signed a two-year contract with the New York Mets. He was expected to become the set-up man for closer Francisco Rodriguez.
Ryota debuted for the Mets on April 8, 2010 relieving Jonathon Niese in the 7th inning against the Florida Marlins. He began by walking Cameron Maybin but got Hanley Ramirez to ground into a twin killing then got Jorge Cantu on a pop fly. Fellow Japanese rookie Hisanori Takahashi replaced him in the 8th.