Casey Fossum's journey to Japan had a curious head start last season. Long before the Hanshin Tigers expressed an interest in him, the lefty had already heard plenty about them.
"I've heard a lot of good things about the Tigers," Fossum told The Daily Yomiuri on Tuesday at Jingu Stadium, where Hanshin's game against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows was rained out.
"I played with Kei Igawa last year for two months, so he told me all about playing baseball in Japan and all about the Tigers. It's very ironic how it worked out.
"The guy's a great Triple-A pitcher. They [the New York Yankees] rushed him in there. He never really got comfortable enough up there to pitch, and he's been in Triple-A throwing really well for the last two or three years. Personally, I just think he needs a change of scenery, to go somewhere [where there's] a lot less pressure, because New York's a tough place to play."
And while Igawa tries to reclaim his career in the States, the 32-year-old Fossum finds himself starting fresh with Igawa's former club.
A first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox and 48th player taken in the 1999 draft, Fossum had been primarily a starter until 2007, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays used him mostly out of the pen. Since then it's been mostly relief work with a slew of organizations.
"I was with three teams last year," he said. "I just wanted some stability for me and my family.
"They [the Tigers] gave me an opportunity to start....I enjoy starting a lot more. There's more structure for me. I can get on a better program. Every time I've relieved, I've never had a defined role. It's been either long relief or they'd throw me in as a lefty specialist and I never knew what inning I'd be going in."
It's not unusual for players to come to Japan in search of regular playing time, but Fossum's quest to start was sidetracked by an unfamiliar spring regimen that saw him throwing more in the bullpen than he was used to in the States.
"We're used to throwing very structured bullpens," he said. "Everybody does the same thing. Thirty pitches your first day, 40 your next day. Here the guys are used to throwing a lot.
"I'm used to throwing more in game-type situations in order to get ready. There's a big time energy level [gap] between being in the bullpen and in a game. That extra adrenaline, the competitiveness of the game helps my arm get in shape.
"For the first month, I basically just threw bullpens. Then all of a sudden I was in a game, and I have to take it up. My arm wasn't in shape to throw my breaking balls the way I want to, so I started the season in the minor leagues and made two starts."
The minor league work gave him the game time his breaking pitches needed, and Fossum has so far been impressive in his two Central League starts.
He threw six scoreless innings in his April 15 debut, a 5-2 loss to the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome. His encore eight days later saw him allow a run in five innings to beat the Chunichi Dragons at Koshien Stadium.
"My breaking stuff, my curveball and my slider, just got way sharper [in the minors], Fossum said. "I've been through spring training here. I understand it. If I come back next year, I definitely would have a different approach to getting in shape.
"Being over here, everything's new to us foreign players and it's a learning process, but now I feel good and I was glad I was able to get an extra 11 innings in the minor leagues. I wanted to make sure I was ready to pitch at this level before I made my first start of the season.
"[My breaking balls] didn't have that extra finish on them. But I have confidence in them and they're not as lazy."
The style of baseball here has also made the lefty consider his tactics.
"There's more slap hitters, there's more speed, a lot of small ball," he said. "And I think one key is getting the leadoff hitter out in every inning to not allow them to start moving runners, hitting and running."