Oakland Athletics Sign Hideki Okajima To Minor League Deal

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Free agent pitcher Hideki Okajima has signed a Minor League deal with the Oakland Athletics. What are the chances that the left-hander will impress enough in spring training to clinch an Opening Day roster spot?

Okajima spent five seasons in Major League Baseball with the Boston Red Sox from 2007-11. The 37-year-old only worked out of the bullpen and was primarily a seventh and eighth inning pitcher. He posted a career 17-8 record with a 3.11 earned run average, 215 strikeouts, 85 holds and 16 saves in 261 appearances. He spent the 2012 season with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in the Nippon Professional Baseball League, in which he had an outstanding year, going 0-2 with a 0.96 ERA in 47 2/3 innings.

The Japanese native was released from the Hawks in late January so that he could once again try his luck with a team in the majors. Oakland decided it would be wise to take a chance on the short reliever considering how well he has historically pitched in the majors and what he was able to do in the Japanese league last year.

“I’m very happy to be back, very happy to come back with Oakland,” Okajima said. “It’s nice to be on the West Coast. The weather is good. And it represents a real opportunity for me.”

Obviously, both Okajima and the Athletics are hoping he has enough left in his arm to not only make the 25-man roster but also to be a legitimate threat out of the bullpen. However, there is certainly a bit of concern with his throwing shoulder considering it was this time last year that he failed a physical with the New York Yankees. Fortunately, Okajima passed his physical yesterday and is ready to get back to work.

“The shoulder is fine,’’ he said. “I pitched with no problem (in Japan). I won’t throw off a mound (Tuesday), but I’m on a regular schedule.’’

It will be interesting to see how Okajima does in 2013 when he gets the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.

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