Hideki Irabu: a strikeout king in Japan, underrated in US

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Hideki Irabu, who passed away this week at age 42, was best known for his failures in the United States.  He forced his way to the Yankees after the Padres originally purchased his rights, only to be dubbed a “fat toad” by George Steinbrenner after a series of disappointing performances.

Irabu, though, was hardly a horrible pitcher for the Yankees.  His career got off to a disastrous start in 1997, as he amassed a 7.09 ERA in nine starts and four relief appearances, and his reputation never really recovered.

However, Irabu was a perfectly adequate starter in his two subsequent years in New York, going 24-16 with a 4.44 ERA.  Now, a 4.44 ERA doesn’t sound like much right now, but back then, it was an above average mark.  He had a 103 ERA+ between 1998-99.  (For comparison’s sake, Michael Pineda, Edwin Jackson and Madison Bumgarner are all sporting ERA+s right around 103 this season).

Unfortunately, that was the end of Irabu’s U.S. contribution.  After being traded to the Expos in Dec. 1999, he went 5-15 with a 6.31 ERA in 118 1/3 innings over three injury-plagued seasons, though he actually did manage to record 16 saves for the Rangers in 2002.

Irabu returned to Japan after that and had a nice 2003 campaign, going 13-8 with a 3.85 ERA before knee pain shut him down early in the 2004 season, causing him to retire.  He attempted comebacks afterwards, and as a 40-year-old in 2009, he went 5-3 with a 3.58 ERA for Long Beach of the Golden Baseball League before again calling it a career.

Irabu ended up 72-69 with a 3.55 ERA in Japan.  He led his league in wins in 1994, in ERA in 1995 and ’96 and in strikeouts in 1994 and ’95.

In MLB, he went 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA.  His strong strikeout rate couldn’t overcome his penchant for giving up homers, as he surrendered 91 longballs in just 514 major league innings.

Irabu did collect two World Series rings with the Yankees.  Still, one can’t help but wonder how much better things would have went for him if he OK’d pitching in San Diego.  Pitching in the NL and Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium would helped him out a bunch, given his flyball tendencies, and Irabu never seemed equipped to deal with the pressures of New York.  He probably wouldn’t have duplicated his Japan League success in San Diego, but he likely would have had some 15-win seasons before injuries struck.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.