With the Ishii/Phillips trade done and dusted, Newsday’s David Lennon explores the reasons why Los Angeles was so willing to part with left-handed starter.
Getting Kaz Ishii was the easy part. Turning him into a more efficient pitcher, and having the patience to do so, might prove to be more difficult.
Just ask the Dodgers. Rather than stomach another season of watching Ishii struggle to find the plate, they traded him to the Mets yesterday for catcher Jason Phillips and also paid a significant chunk of Ishii’s salary, roughly $2 million of the $5.4 million he is guaranteed through 2005.
The Mets know all about Ishii’s. wildness, but after losing Steve Trachsel to back surgery for a minimum of three months, they figured the Japanese lefthander would be a quick fix for that vacant No. 5 spot.
Ishii has a nasty habit of putting people on base, having walked 106, 101 and 98 in the last three seasons. Pitching coach Rick Peterson already had his hands full with the erratic Victor Zambrano, and now the Mets have another project in Ishii. But general manager Omar Minaya does not seem overly concerned.
“Some guys have a way of pitching like that,” Minaya said. “The walks are there. But when you look at what he’s done in the past, and you look at the five guys we have, it’s comforting to have that guy.”
The Mets obviously did not feel as good about their in-house options for the role of fifth starter, with Matt Ginter, Jae Seo and Aaron Heilman having totaled only 21 wins during their brief major-league careers.
Ishii is 36-25 in three seasons, but his style frustrated Dodgers manager Jim Tracy, and the rift between the two reached the point of no return.
“That’s what is unique about him,” Dodgers pitching coach Jim Colborn said. “He does stuff that is self-destructive, but he still winds up being successful. That’s one of his strengths. He’s unbelievable in the clutch. He seems to need his back against the wall to pitch his best.”
Ishii has the repertoire to get batters out. A deceptive delivery gives his 88-mph fastball a little more jump, and he mixes in a cut fastball, changeup and curve.
But just like Zambrano, whose pitches can be unhittable at times, the problem is consistency. When Colborn was asked yesterday what pitch Ishii has trouble with, the coach joked, “A strike.”