Igawa struggles in debut

Igawa misses the mark in Major League debut

NEW YORK -- Kei Igawa became the first Yankees pitcher to throw five innings this season, but it didn't exactly come in the fashion the club would have projected.

Making his Major League debut, the 27-year-old Japanese left-hander surrendered seven runs and eight hits to the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday, with only an Alex Rodriguez grand slam in the bottom of the ninth rescuing Igawa from defeat.

"He had trouble getting the ball over the plate," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "When a fastball is the only pitch you can throw for a strike, they're not going to let you get away with that.

"He'll be out there again next turn. We expect better and I'm sure he does, too."

The Yankees made a relatively modest investment in acquiring Igawa, a three-time strikeout leader in Japan's Central League, this offseason. New York put up a $26 million posting bid to secure Igawa's negotiating rights from the Hanshin Tigers, then inked the southpaw to a five-year, $20 million contract in December.

The Yankees have been cautious to project Igawa as a long-term investment, and have shied away from comparisons to Red Sox ace Daisuke Matsuzaka, who proved electric in his big-league debut against the Royals.

The Yankees project Igawa more as a back-end-of-the-rotation starter, as evidenced by his assignment to pitch in New York's fourth contest of the regular season following a Spring Training workload that featured mixed results.

Working with his day-game sunglasses -- a habit Igawa first displayed in a March 10 exhibition start against the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla. -- Igawa's debut was inauspicious, though he claimed to not have been nervous.

Igawa walked three and struck out two before leaving the field to a chorus of boos, which he later claimed that he did not know were meant for him.

"I was disappointed," Igawa said through an interpreter, "but this is a long season. There's some good days and there's some bad days."

This was the latter. Baltimore right fielder Nick Markakis greeted Igawa with a two-out home run in the first inning before the Orioles batted around in a four-run second.

Baltimore loaded the bases with none out on three consecutive singles before Igawa nearly wriggled out of the jam, inducing Chris Gomez to foul out and striking out Alberto Castillo, but leadoff hitter Brian Roberts worked a bases-loaded walk and Melvin Mora delivered the big blow, a three-run double.

"I gave it my best shot," Igawa said. "The results said otherwise."

With the Yankees' bullpen lagging from three previous contests in which Carl Pavano, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina combined to surrender 15 runs (12 earned) in 12 1/3 innings, Igawa was left in to complete five innings in a 97-pitch effort.

As the sixth began, he turned the contest over to a succession of four New York relievers, who held the fort until Alex Rodriguez delivered his walk-off grand slam off Baltimore's Chris Ray with two outs in the ninth inning.

Who better to ask, then, than the man who eventually bailed out the lefty? Rodriguez offered his support, projecting -- just as the Yankees do -- that Igawa can be a contributor down the road.

"Igawa's going to be fine," Rodriguez said. "I know the numbers don't [show it], but I thought he threw the ball well. He's going to help us out a lot."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.