Senga acclimating quickly, meets New York media

Team brass enthusiastic about how righty will transition from NPB to MLB

December 19th, 2022

NEW YORK -- For the Mets in their pursuit of Kodai Senga, three things needed no translation.

The first was his constitution. Senga had become an integral member of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan by way of that club’s developmental league, which is roughly equivalent to independent ball in the United States. Generally speaking, top talents don’t play there. Senga’s ability to begin his career in such purgatory and escape it, in the eyes of Mets officials, spoke deeply about his character.

The second was Senga’s record of success. He won the Nippon Professional Baseball League championship six times. He was Softbank’s Game 1 starter in four consecutive Japan Series from 2017-20, going undefeated in those starts. The Mets do not dismiss any of those achievements to circumstance.

“That’s a pretty good sign of resiliency,” general manager Billy Eppler said Monday at a press conference to announce Senga’s five-year, $75 million pact with the club. “Frankly, I think it’s one that Mets fans in the community would really identify with and feel good about.”

The third was Senga’s introduction itself. As he took the Citi Field podium, slipping on the No. 34 jersey that he chose after consulting fans on social media, Senga said in English: “Hi. I am Kodai Senga of the New York Mets. I am very happy and excited to be in the Big Apple and join such a great team.”

As for the rest, Senga can only wait and see how well everything translates. His fastball, which has been clocked at 101 mph, may not be quite the same once he begins throwing in games with MLB’s larger, harder, slicker baseballs. His routine will also change; pitchers in Japan generally take the mound once per week, which is different from the American routine of once every five games. Already, Eppler has discussed using the Mets’ pitching depth to provide extra days of rest -- not in the form of a true six-man rotation, but by inserting an extra arm into their rotation as needed.

There is a blueprint here. Plenty of Japanese pitchers have undergone this transition with success, including Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani over the last decade. Already, Senga has picked the brain of Darvish, a former Nippon Ham star who serves as a mentor to many Japanese players shifting to MLB. Darvish’s top advice? “Learn English,” Senga said.

To that end, Senga is taking language classes three times per week. He answered multiple questions in English at his press conference, including one from a reporter who asked which Major Leaguer he most wants to face. (Senga’s answer: “Phillies lineup.”)

It was a charming introduction for a 29-year-old who’s still new to all this. Until the Mets flew him to New York last month for a meet-and-greet with team officials including Eppler, owner Steve Cohen and manager Buck Showalter, Senga had never set foot in the city. Those who know him suggest he’s the exact type of extrovert who will thrive in the nation’s largest media market. He’s eager to search for places to stay in both New York and near the Mets’ Spring Training complex in Florida.

Senga has likewise begun his on-field transition, throwing at Citi Field after arriving in New York last weekend. He previously worked out at Driveline Baseball headquarters outside Seattle and will either return there or to Queens for offseason training. Wherever he works, Senga will grow accustomed to throwing his fastball, his signature “ghost forkball” and other pitches under the watch of team officials.

“He’s on the Mets’ program,” said Senga’s agent, Joel Wolfe. “He wanted to start now so that when he gets to Spring Training, he’s ready to go. That’s the mentality in Japan.”

Eppler, who was instrumental in bringing Tanaka to the Yankees in 2014 and Ohtani to the Angels four years later, began scouting Senga shortly after he debuted for Fukuoka more than a decade ago.

“Let’s not forget that there’s a lot of acclimation that comes with a pitcher coming from the NPB,” Eppler said. “Our travel is different. Our strike zone is different. Our mounds are different. Our balls are different, and our hitters are different. So there’s a lot of different variables here. You want to make sure you’re thoughtful on all of those, and just make sure you give him the best chance to succeed that you can.”