Grapefruit League flashback: Spring training feature on Hideki Irabu in March 2000

Here’s what I filed for The Rafu Shimpo in March 2000 while reporting from Florida from various spring training camps.

By ED M. ODEVEN
Rafu contributor
JUPITER, Fla. (March 27, 2000) — Like countless other ballclubs, the Montreal Expos needed reliable starting pitchers heading into the 2000 season. Indeed, Hideki Irabu is just one component of the Expos’ surprisingly sensational starting rotation that has turned heads so far during Grapefruit League action.

Irabu, 30, has had a brilliant spring, compiling a 3-0 record with a 1.59 ERA in four starts. He has struck out 17 batters and walked four in 17 innings of work while holding opposing hitters to a .172 batting average. (As a team, Montreal’s pitching staff posted a 3.05 ERA through March 25.)

Since being acquired by the Expos last December after a rocky, 2 1/2-year stint with the New York Yankees, Irabu has gained the respect of his coaches and teammates.

“First of all, he’s done everything we’ve asked of him and so far everything’s great,” Expos pitching coach Bobby Cuellar said. “He’s done all the work we’ve asked of him…He’s shown that he’s a good pitcher.”

Irabu’s also shown the past is history.

“I don’t have any problems with Hideki,” Cuellar said. “I don’t know who had problems. I don’t have any idea. That’s history. He already got paid for that year. This is a different year.”

Expos catcher Chris Widger said Irabu is a welcome addition to a young team. In fact, the Expos have only four players on their 40-man roster over 30: reliever Graeme Lloyd (32), infielder Mike Mordecai (32) and reliever Anthony Telford (34).

“He brings an established starter,” Widger said. “We don’t need to worry about trying to find another young guy to fill that spot. He’s a proven veteran who’s pitched in the big leagues for a number of years, and counting Japan, he’s been around for a long time.

“He knows how to pitch. He knows how to win. And he’s been on a winner, so hopefully he’ll bring that attitude to the team.

“He locates the fastball very well. He doesn’t get behind in count a lot, and he keeps the game moving. He gets balls in play a lot, and the defense likes to play behind him.”

Irabu said maintaining a winning attitude is his primary objective.

“I always think when I throw the baseball today I’m going to win, I have to win. Next time…same thing,” Irabu said through interpreter Go Ikeda.

According to Irabu, there’s less pressure to perform in Montreal but he still expects to have a solid season. However, he’s made only one goal for 2000: to pitch 200-plus innings.Montreal manager Felipe Alou, the 1994 National League Manager of the Year, has penciled in Irabu as the team’s No. 2 starter behind staff ace Dustin Hermanson.

Also joining Irabu in the starting rotation are Carl Pavano, Jeremy Powell and Javier Vazquez.

“It didn’t take me very long to realize he’s a No. 2 starter,” Alou said. “He’s a pitcher with experience and a good arm. He knows the trade well…He’s a professional guy. I’m impressed with his behavior on the mound. He’s a confident pitcher. He’s mature.”

Although he’s only been with his new teammates for a little over a month, Irabu believes the youthful pitching staff has plenty of potential.

“There are a lot of young pitchers, but everybody has power and good skills,” said Irabu, who had a 29-20 record with the Yanks. “It’s fun to watch them.

“I’m doing the best I can,” Irabu said. “Spring training’s been good and now I’m read to start (the regular season).”

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