The Oakland A's added another experienced pitcher to their bullpen mix on Tuesday when they signed veteran reliever Hideki Okajima to a minor-league contract with an invite to big league spring training. The former Boston Red Sox's set-up man joined the A's in Phoenix on Tuesday.
Okajima was a member of the Boston bullpen for four seasons (2007-2010). Coming over from Japan, Okajima was instrumental to the Red Sox's bullpen in 2007, when the team won the World Series. He had a 2.22 ERA that year with 63 strike-outs and only 50 hits allowed in 69 innings. He was voted in by the fans to the All-Star game that season, but did not pitch in the game. When he threw 2.1 innings of scoreless relief in game two of the 2007 World Series, Okajima became the first Japanese-born pitcher to pitch in the World Series.
Okajima had a 2.61 ERA in 2008 and a 3.39 ERA in 2009, but his performance fell off in 2010 (4.50 ERA with a 33:22 K:BB ratio). He didn't make the Red Sox's Opening Day roster in 2011 and would end up appearing in only seven games with the Red Sox. He would spend the majority of the year with Triple-A Pawtucket, where he had a 2.29 ERA with 48 strike-outs and nine walks in 51 games.
Last season, Okajima signed with the New York Yankees, but he was released during spring training when it was revealed he failed a physical. He would return to Japan and would pitch for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. Okajima was healthy all season for the Softbank Hawks and he appeared in 56 games. In 47 innings, the left-hander had an 0.94 ERA with 36 strike-outs and six walks.
Okajima, 37, is one of nine non-roster pitchers in A's big league camp. He is also one of several left-handed relievers in camp for Oakland. A's lefty relievers include 40-man roster members Travis Blackley, Jerry Blevins, Sean Doolittle, Pedro Figueroa and Jordan Norberto, and non-roster invitee Justin Thomas. Left-handed starters Andrew Werner (40-man roster) and Garrett Olson (NRI) could also see some time as relievers.
Okajima is expected to be part of a battle for the final two bullpen spots.
Other News and Notes:
- According to Baseball America's Matt Eddy, the A's have released right-hander Matt Thomson and infielder Nino Leyja.
Thomson was the A's 12th-round pick in 2010 out of University of San Diego. Thomson was the first of back-to-back picks by Oakland out of USD that year (the A's took A.J. Griffin in the 13th round). Thomson starred in his professional debut season with Vancouver and Stockton, but he finished the year with a sore shoulder that wound-up being a torn labrum. He made only a handful of appearances in 2011 and one in 2012. Thomson is a native of Santa Rosa.
Leyja was the A's 15th-round pick in 2008 out of a Houston-area high school. He had a strong debut with the A's Rookie League team that season, batting .315 with an 862 OPS. Leyja struggled swinging the bat the next four seasons, however, never posting an OPS above 700. He appeared in 48 games for High-A Stockton last season and hit .211/.278/.304 in 161 at-bats.
- Michael Ynoa has yet to arrive at A's big league camp. The 6'7'' right-hander, who was added to the 40-man roster this off-season, has the chicken pox, according to the A's beat writers at camp. Ynoa has yet to play in a full-season league and is expected to be sent back to minor league camp with first cuts so that he can compete for a spot on the Low-A Beloit roster.