By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hisanori Takahashi auditioned as a Mets starting pitcher against the New York Yankees last week and the Japanese veteran won the role on Wednesday with a stellar performance against Philadelphia Phillies.
Pitching with pinpoint control, Takahashi tossed six shutout innings against NL East-leading Philadelphia in New York's 5-0 victory to improve his record to 4-1.
The impressive outing matched the left-hander's maiden major league start against the World Series champion Yankees and secured him a spot in the Mets' rotation.
"Yeah, he's in the rotation," Manuel told reporters when asked if the 35-year-old Takahashi had passed his audition. "It will be tough to get him out."
Takahashi gave up five hits and no walks, while striking out six. Of his 94 pitches, 65 were strikes.
A starting pitcher for a decade in Japan where he played for the Yomiuri Giants, Takahashi was signed by the Mets in the off-season with the expectation he would pitch as a reliever.
The modestly built Takahashi, wearing a Mets' spring training tee-shirt in front of a locker surrounded by reporters, said he was happy to be in the rotation.
"I've been a starter for more than 10 years in Japan," the 5-foot-10 (1.78m), 170-pound (77 kg) pitcher said through an interpreter. "I know my pitching style and I just perform the same thing here in the United States."
The Japanese took advantage of an opening in the rotation after showing his stuff as a reliever. Dating back to May 5, he has allowed only two runs in 22.1 innings.
The Mets manager said control was the key to his success.
"I think his command is probably amongst the top pitchers in our league. The command of the change-up, the curveball, his fastball is outstanding. At any time in the count he can throw any pitch, which is a tremendous asset for a pitcher."
Manuel said Takahashi surprised him in training camp.
"At spring training... we were charting pitches and charting command and he was off the charts. He was 90 percent, something like that. Crazy."
"The thing I was a little concerned about was velocity and I see here now he's 90, 91 (mph) with great command. So he can be a tremendous asset for us."
When Takahashi came into the dugout after striking out Phillies slugger Ryan Howard and getting Jayson Werth to fly out with men on first and third while nursing a 2-0 lead in the sixth, Manuel gave the Japanese pitcher a warm hug.
"He just said, 'good job,'" Takahashi said about their exchange. "And I could take a deep breath."
(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by John O'Brien)