'As advertised,' Senga K's 8, gets 'W' in MLB debut

April 2nd, 2023

MIAMI -- Typically, when Buck Showalter is asked about a player he is managing for the first time, he responds with the phrase, “As advertised.” Little seems to surprise Showalter in his 22nd season as a manager. Real-world evidence only corroborates the research he’s done, the instincts he’s honed.

A rare exception occurred Saturday on the eve of ’s first Major League start. Polled about his excitement level, Showalter admitted to a bit of curiosity, adding, “You always look forward to something you’re a little curious about.” He then lauded Senga for what seems to be a preternatural ability to adapt to the circumstances around him.

In that manner, Senga again proved his manager correct. For about the first 10 minutes of his MLB debut the following afternoon, Senga appeared overwhelmed, nervous, and perhaps a little dazed. He threw multiple pitches in the dirt. He walked two batters and uncorked a wild pitch. He prompted stirrings in the Mets’ bullpen before he recorded an out. 

Then Senga satisfied Showalter’s curiosity by responding with the crispest four-inning stretch the Mets have enjoyed this season, retiring 15 of the final 17 batters he faced in a 5-1 win over the Marlins.

“It was a gradual thing,” Senga said through interpreter Hiro Fujiwara. “Step by step, I got more and more used to the moment I was in.”

By the time Senga walked off the loanDepot park mound with one out in the sixth, having delivered 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball, his unpleasant beginning was just a memory. Senga admitted afterward that there were “definitely a lot of nerves” as he took the mound for the first time, his legs feeling unsteady “like a ghost.”

Consider that a natural reaction. This was one of the most anticipated debuts of an international player in Mets history, given the size of Senga’s five-year, $75 million contract, plus his history as both a five-time Nippon Professional Baseball champion and a 2017 World Baseball Classic star. Only one other Japanese-born pitcher, Masato Yoshii, had made his MLB debut in a start for the Mets, and that was a quarter-century ago.

Around a dozen Japanese journalists traveled to Miami to chronicle the event, while countless fans shook off early-morning sleepiness to watch from Senga’s hometown of Gamagori, from his old stomping grounds of Fukuoka, and from elsewhere on the islands of Japan. (Senga, whose wry sense of humor loses little in translation, quipped earlier in the weekend that he planned to make incessant calls to friends and family to rouse them from their slumber.)

Before Senga threw a pitch, he had accrued a bit of stateside legend as well, in part because of the snappy name for his signature offering: a “ghost forkball,” which looks like a fastball out of Senga’s hand before -- boo! -- disappearing. Although Senga did not come up with the moniker, he has embraced it, ordering a custom blue leather glove stitched with a ghost holding a pitchfork.

Much like Senga’s debut as a whole, the ghost fork was ineffective early but dynamic after that. He allowed a single on his first one, threw a wild pitch on his second and spiked his third several feet in front of home plate. But when Senga threw a ghost fork to Yuli Gurriel following a bases-loaded, no-outs mound visit by pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, everything changed. Gurriel sent his bat flying down the third-base line as he flailed and missed. Senga struck out the next batter on a similar pitch, then escaped the inning when Starling Marte made a running grab of Jon Berti’s liner.

“He is 30 years old, but in a lot of ways he’s a rookie,” Hefner said. “He’ll have those adjustments that he’ll need to maneuver. But I think what showed different from maybe a 24-year-old rookie is his ability to settle the waters.”

From that point forward, Senga elicited what Hefner called a rash of “bad swings,” including eight whiffs on 12 ghost forkballs. Tommy Pham paced the offense with three hits and a two-run homer, and Senga struck out eight batters in total, tied for fourth-most among Japanese-born pitchers making their MLB debuts.

It was enough to satisfy the curiosity of Showalter, who referred once again to “the resiliency that [Senga] is known for.”

“I think when they signed him to a whatever-million-dollar contract that he was the complete package,” said Marlins infielder Joey Wendle, borrowing that old familiar phrase from Showalter. “And I think he was as advertised.”