January 29, 2013
Tuesday, January 29
We’ve reached the part of the offseason when Hideki Okajima considering a return to the majors is among the top rumors. To spice things up, listen to the entrance song that he used during his time with the Red Sox while you read the opening segment of today’s Roundup.
Okajima could return to the States as a member of the A’s
One source of optimism regarding Okajima is his improved control. The lefty issued only six walks in 47 2/3 innings of work for Fukuoka, a figure that stands in stark contrast to the 9.4 percent walk rate that he logged in his last extended major-league stint, which came with the Red Sox in 2010. Throwing darts in Nippon Professional Baseball’s Pacific League is much easier than doing so in the majors, but it appears that Okajima’s performance was impressive enough to attract some attention back in the States.
If Okajima does land with the A’s, though, he is likely to command only a minor-league contract, and his path to the big-league bullpen would be far from clear. Manager Bob Melvin already has at least three southpaw mouths to feed—primary set-up man Sean Doolittle, and middle relievers Jerry Blevins and Jordan Norberto—and three others, Travis Blackley, Pedro Figueroa, and Andrew Werner are “on the outside looking in.” Okajima’s only obvious route to a roster spot would entail outdueling Norberto in spring training, and hoping that the other bubble players do not follow suit.
On the other hand, general manager Billy Beane might have an ulterior motive for signing Okajima—namely, to help his new, “extremely sexy and cool” shortstop, Hiroyuki Nakajima, to get acclimated in his new home. That element, in tandem with Okajima’s possible renaissance, may be his ticket back to the majors. And, the long roster odds notwithstanding, Okajima has previously shown the lockdown LOOGY ability that could set him apart in a competition at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Okajima held opposing lefties to a sub-.200 TAv in each of the two seasons preceding his 2010 collapse (.192 in 2008, .176 in 2009), due in large part to his deceptive mechanics, which enabled him to draw whiffs on 9.82 percent of the fastballs that he threw to fellow lefties in 2009, even though the pitch seldom cracked 89 mph. Most of those whiffs came on fastballs just off the outside corner; when Okajima missed his spot and threw the pitch over the plate, he paid the price.