Ryan Cook’s former Seattle Mariners teammates will have be forgiven if they don’t immediately recognize him when they arrive in Japan later this month.
It won’t just be because Cook will have on Yomiuri Giants uniform. It’ll be because the Giants, much like the New York Yankees, don’t allow facial hair, meaning the reliever signed up for a new look as well as a new team this offseason.
“I haven’t not had a beard since 2011,” a clean-shaven Cook told the The Japan Times at Tokyo Dome last week, noting with a laugh he and his wife are still getting used to the look.
“It was really a shock at first. “It’s been so long since I’ve not had a beard, so I was curious to see. But I think it makes me feel younger. I’d started to get so much grey in the beard, maybe it was time for it to go anyway.”
The 31-year-old former MLB All-Star may see a different face when he looks in mirror, but the Kyojin are counting on him looking the same on the mound.
Cook, along with Hirokazu Sawamura, is a leading candidate to take over as the Giants’ closer. His presence also gives the Yomiuri more depth until veteran reliever Scott Mathieson is ready to return.
He made his spring debut on Sunday at Tokyo Dome, retiring the top of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ lineup — Tomotaka Sakaguchi, former MLBer Norichika Aoki and possible future MLB player Tetsuto Yamada — in order on seven pitches.
“Everything came together well,” Giants manager Tatsunori Hara told reporters. “It was very good.”
Cook topped out at 153 kph during his outing. His fastball was a strength in North America and he’s using the spring to see how well it works in Japan.
“I do know that the game is different here, and I know I will have to make adjustments,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any way to plan really for how that will go. I’ll get out there and I’ll feel. If that’s not a strength here, then I’ll have to make an adjustment somewhere else.”
Cook and pitching coach Kazutomo Miyamoto may also make his changeup, which, according to Fangraphs, he thew 6.5 percent of the time in the majors, an increased part of his arsenal.
“(We) talked a little bit about my vision on my changeup and what the goal with the pitch is when I think about throwing it,” Cook said. “That’s helped me a lot. It’s a new pitch to me in the sense I want to try to throw it to right-handers more than I ever have.”
He began adjusting to the NPB ball before even arriving in Japan, with Yomiuri sending over a box after he signed.
“So I had time in the States to get accustomed to the little nuances that are different,” he said. “So far, everything pitch-wise feels great.”
As Cook adjusts to his new surroundings, he’ll get a blast from the past when the Mariners and Oakland A’s open the 2019 MLB season at Tokyo Dome.
Cook has played for both teams and was with the A’s when the same clubs began the 2012 season in Japan.
He’ll be on the opposing side against both when the Giants face the MLB clubs in exhibition games.
“How funny right? It’s pretty crazy how things work out like that,” he said.
That 2012 opener was the start of a big year for Cook. He made the All-Star team and finished with six wins, 14 saves and a 2.09 ERA in 73⅓ innings.
Cook remained with Oakland until being traded to the Red Sox during the 2015 season. He joined Seattle in 2016 but tore a lat muscle during the spring. He tore a hamstring while still on the mend and then tore his UCL pitching in a rehab game. He eventually underwent Tommy John surgery and had more issues complicate his return.
Cook finally made it back to the majors in 2018, making 19 appearances for the Mariners. Now he’s ready to start his next chapter.
“Because of not having the game for those two years, I really got to see what it felt like to miss it,” he said. “I couldn’t even watch baseball, because I would just be bummed that I wasn’t capable of playing.
“It’s a fresh start in terms of being in Japan, but it’s another baseball game and I’m just honored to be 31-years old and still be able to put on a uniform.”
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