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08/10/09 8:51 AM ET

Irabu continues comeback try in Japan

Former Yankees pitcher impressed in independent league

Former Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu has moved his comeback attempt to Japan, with an eye toward returning to that country's major leagues.

The 40-year-old right-hander, who also played for the Expos and Rangers during a six-year MLB career from 1997-2002, signed on Monday with the Kochi Fighting Dogs, one of six teams in the independent Shikoku-Kyushu Island League. He is expected to make his first start on Aug. 23.

"As long as I'm playing, I'll aim for Japan's top league," Irabu said at a news conference. "I have high expectations for myself."

Irabu was pitching for the Long Beach Armada of the Golden Baseball League, posting a 5-3 record and 3.58 ERA in 10 starts. He struck out 66 batters while walking 19 in 65 innings.

"Irabu was very impressive for us and I believe he can get hitters out at the top levels in Japan," said former Cardinals and Padres shortstop Garry Templeton, who manages Long Beach. "He's throwing in the 90s, has excellent control, an assortment of pitches, and is in great physical shape. It was a pleasure having him with us this year and we wish him well in Japan."

Irabu pitched for the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan's Pacific League from 1988-96 before joining the Yankees, via a trade with the Padres, and signing a four-year, $12.8 million contract. He went 29-20 with a 4.80 ERA over parts of three seasons with New York.

He returned to Japan in 2003 and helped the Hanshin Tigers win the Central League pennant, but he was released in 2004.

Bobbie Dittmeier is an editor/producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.