Jays should find out if Ryota Igarashi can be the next Tom Henke

With Bill Caudill faltering as the Toronto Blue Jays’ closer in 1985, general manager Pat Gillick looked within the organization to solve the club’s ninth-inning woes.

Fortunately, a bespectacled, 27-year-old fireballer that the Jays had plucked from the Texas Rangers as free agent compensation for Cliff Johnson was dominating International League batters.

In 51-1/3 innings with the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs that season, Tom Henke had permitted just 13 hits, fanned 60 batters and posted a microscopic .604 WHIP.

The man who would become known as The Terminator was the logical choice to be promoted, and Henke would make his Blue Jays debut on July 29. The 6-foot-5 Missouri native would proceed to whiff 42 batters in 40 innings and record 13 saves to help the Jays advance to within one win of a World Series berth.

But I don’t bring up Henke’s debut merely as a walk down memory lane.

After witnessing the Jays’ bullpen blow 25 saves in 2011, Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos traded for right-handers Sergio Santos and Jason Frasor in the off-season, and signed veteran lefty Darren Oliver and longtime closer Francisco Cordero as free agents.

So heading into this season, the Blue Jays’ bullpen was supposed to be dramatically improved. But prior to the start of Friday’s game against the Rangers, the Jays’ relief corps had converted just seven of 14 save opportunities and their 61 base on balls in 124-2/3 innings gives them a strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) of 1.97, which ranks 12th in the AL.

To compound their woes, the club will likely be without Santos for at least three more weeks while he rehabs his shoulder. With Santos on the shelf, Cordero assumed the closer’s role and was hit hard. Opponents are batting .329 against the 36-year-old Dominican and he had blown three consecutive saves before being supplanted by Casey Janssen as the club’s interim closer.

To Janssen’s credit, he has converted all three of his save opportunities since assuming ninth-inning duties, but the fidgety hurler doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. While fans like to celebrate his 6-0 record and 2.26 ERA last season, if they look deeper at his numbers, they’ll discover that he allowed 48 per cent of inherited runners to score (The league average is around 29 per cent).

That’s why Anthopoulos should take a page out of Gillick’s 1985 notebook and try the just promoted Ryota Igarashi, whose 98-mph fastball has been overpowering AAA hitters, in the closer’s role. With 28 strikeouts and a 0.62 WHIP in 21 innings in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, the soon-to-be 33-year-old right-hander, who was a closer in Japan before signing with the Mets in December 2009, has been dominant in the late innings in 2012.

Like Henke, Igarashi represents a flame-throwing, low profile acquisition. Picked up from Pittsburgh on March 30 for cash considerations, Igarashi was a five-time all-star with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows of the Nippon Professional Baseball league, before he inked a two-year, $3-million deal with the Mets.

Though not nearly as big as The Terminator, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound right-hander still managed to fan 9.8 batters per nine innings with the Mets last season. And like Henke, Igarashi’s arsenal boasts a fastball and a forkball.

“He’s (Igarashi) slowly starting to put himself on the map (in Toronto),” Blue Jays Triple-A Las Vegas skipper Marty Brown told the Las Vegas Review Journal in late April. “People know the kind of stuff he has now. His velocity, command of the fastball and curveball and the fact that experience-wise he knows how to pitch.”

And with the Jays’ bullpen still underperforming, Igarashi should find himself on Anthopoulos’s “map” in the closer’s role. It’s worth a shot. And who knows? Igarashi just might be the club’s next Tom Henke.


5 thoughts on “Jays should find out if Ryota Igarashi can be the next Tom Henke

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  1. Daring comparison Kevin Glew.
    I hope there is a distinct difference between Caudill and any other current member of the Toronto Blue Jays. In 1985, it just seemed like Bill Caudill did not care about the numbers, the outs, the team. He got lit up at every turn.
    It took him forever to find the strike zone. I have never seen Jays fans boo one of their own like they did when Caudill was blowing a save.
    His attitude suited the closer role all right. He always seemed to feel there would always be a next time. To some scribes who were covering the Jays, Caudill was just filling the uniform until he could begin working for his good friend and new player agent Scott Boras. That’s right, Caudill has the distinction of being Boras’ first Major League Baseball client the year the Jays signed the closer in February 1985. (Boras would indeed hire Caudill.)
    Jays fans were wondering why this guy was burning out when he showed so much promise while with Seattle. It was even more difficult for Blue Jays fans to believe that he made the all-star team the year before.
    However, all that changed when Tom Henke arrived. Now, this guy could throw smoke. People believed that the rest of the league would catch up to the young hurler but once everyone saw him pitch, they knew like many of the Jays’ fans that the game was in the bag.
    The most confusing part of Henke’s acquisition was that the Montreal Expos already had a player with the nickname “The Terminator” in Jeff Reardon but the monicker stuck to the younger closer any way.
    Between Dwayne Ward and Tom Henke the Jays were virtually unhittable from 1985 through 1993. The feeling back then was to keep the lead until the 7th inning and bring in the stoppers. This is the kind of confidence Alex Anthopoulos is seeking.

  2. From Devon Teeple:

    Wasn’t a good weekend for Igarashi.

    I’m not sure if he’s the next Henke, perhaps nerves got the best of him. Though he did have similar stats in the Mets org. but they did not correlate when called up to NY.

    Janssen’s been great for the past few years. The guy just keeps getting outs. Would be tough for me to replace him when Santos returns.

    1. I guess in hindsight this blog entry looks a little foolish. But I’m not sure that Igarashi was given a far shot — 41 pitches on Saturday and then two batters on Sunday. Yes, he looked bad, but I’m not sure that you can properly evaluate him based on two appearances.

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