Notes: Igawa eyeing '08 rebound

Notes: Igawa eyeing '08 rebound

TAMPA, Fla. -- Kei Igawa will enter his second consecutive spring competing for a spot in the Yankees' rotation, but after a season of struggles, the club is hoping to accelerate the Japanese left-hander's acclimation process.

Igawa spoke with Yankees manager Joe Girardi, general manager Brian Cashman and pitching coach Dave Eiland for about 30 minutes on Saturday with the help of a translator, going over everything that went wrong in 2007 and trying to figure out how they could attempt to fix it for '08.

"It was just an opportunity to make sure that we try to go above and beyond, and get an idea about Kei and his experience from last season," Cashman said. "[It was] about what he thought would work and what we felt wouldn't work."

The Yankees' $46 million investment in the 28-year-old was cautioned as a long-term project in Cashman's eyes last year, when New York committed a $26 million posting fee to acquire Igawa's rights from the Hanshin Tigers before signing him to a four-year, $20 million deal.

But even given that warning, the returns had to be underwhelming. Igawa was just 2-3 with a 6.25 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) over three stints in New York, bouncing to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Class A Tampa in an effort to fix his mechanics.

Igawa's oddities, like heavy cardiovascular work on the day he pitches and throwing a baseball against a chain-link fence alone, drew some attention in the spring. Later in the year, Igawa was instructed to carry a small wooden stick, which was to help him replicate his pitching motion in the dugout between innings.

The suggestion, like others, did little to help Igawa keep the ball down and avoid walks.

"Last year, I had a hard time adjusting to Major League Spring Training," Igawa said. "But this year, after a long talk with Brian, Joe and Dave, I believe I can better prepare myself for a much better season."

Girardi watched many of Igawa's starts from the YES Network broadcast booth and said he saw a pitcher with talent, but one needing to make adjustments.

"At times he'd be sharp and at times he wouldn't be," Girardi said. "There were some inconsistencies, but he has the ability to strike people out.

Spring Training
News and features:
• Hoch on Pettitte's health  400K
• Va. Tech galleries: Pregame | Game action
• Yankees visit Va. Tech  400K
• Billy Crystal's at-bat  400K
• Yanks-Rays incident  400K
Spring Training info: coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

"It's such a huge adjustment to come over to this country, to change everything you know. Talk about day and night -- [the] food's different, travel is different, everything's different. We're just trying to continue to make his transition."

Though Igawa is working out with the starters, there appears to be a full selection, with six prime candidates already vying for five slots. Cashman said the Yankees would consider Igawa as a reliever if he was among the 12 best pitchers available at the end of camp.

"He's obviously someone who has the ability to be better than what he showed last year," Cashman said. "We're looking forward to seeing that this year. It's incumbent on us to tap that potential."

Looking good, feeling great: The refrain of most players on the way out the door at season's end is to return in February stronger, slimmer and in good all-around shape. Of course, only a handful actually follow through.

After several years of being in the close-but-not-quite group, Yankees reliever Brian Bruney has made great strides, dropping more than 20 pounds and still shooting for more.

"Everything I did was with a focus toward baseball," Bruney said. "The things I ate, the workouts that I did, even down to sleeping, it was all focused around getting up in the morning and going to the gym."

Bruney said that his ultimate goal is to open the season at 227 pounds, a number he selected because it was close to his playing weight in 2000, when he broke into rookie ball with the D-backs. He has eight pounds to go.

His secret? An improved diet is the key: Salads and salmon have replaced cheeseburgers and fries, and alcoholic beverages have been off-limits for two months. After pitching at more than 250 pounds in each of the past three seasons, Bruney can already feel the difference.

"In years past, I'd be fighting myself to roll out of bed and come in," Bruney said. "I'm more focused than I've ever been."

Bruney spent most of his winter working out at the University of Alabama's athletic training facility, incorporating a long-toss program with Orioles pitcher Lance Cormier. His timing may prove to be important, since just a precious few slots in the bullpen remain for an array of contenders.

"Obviously, there's not a lot of spots here," Bruney said. "I was real disappointed with the way I finished last year. It didn't look as good as I thought I could have pitched. I just wanted to be a guy that the team can count on; I want to have a bigger role this year and be a contributor."

Wang wins with a loss: Chien-Ming Wang was determined to look on the bright side after losing his arbitration hearing on Friday. The Yankees starter also made a pretty good point.

"It's not bad for me, because I'm still under contract," he said.

Even with the $600,000 difference between what Wang requested and what the Yankees had to pay, it's still quite a deal. Wang now has a one-year, $4 million deal, up from the $489,500 he earned last season.

Wang said the Yankees gave him a few reasons for the arbitration numbers, such as his 2007 playoff struggles and relatively low strikeout rate. But the Taiwanese right-hander, who's compiled 38 wins over the past two years with New York, won't take any drastic measures, saying, "I'm just going to do what I know how to do."

"Chien-Ming Wang is used to getting back up," Girardi said. "He's been through it. The arbitration case usually passes. It's part of the game, and you learn that it's a business. Sometimes you have to go through this."

Long-distance call to the 'pen: Andy Pettitte was expected to throw a bullpen session on Saturday near his home in Deer Park, Texas. The left-hander is anticipated to report to camp on Monday after he requested extra time following his involvement in Roger Clemens' Congressional hearing.

Bombers bits: Mariano Rivera threw his first bullpen session on Saturday. Girardi said that the closer is sticking to his time-tested spring program. ... Hideki Matsui was running slaloms through three cones in the outfield, with trainer Dana Cavalea close by. His recovery from right knee surgery is progressing, but outfield and hitting time remain uncertain.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Dawn Klemish contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.