|Hideki Okajima trying to work his way back to Boston||04.11.11 at 12:24 pm ET|
Reliever Hideki Okajima knew when he signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox this offseason that he was not guaranteed a roster spot. That didn’t make getting sent to Pawtucket to start the season any easier, though. When asked Thursday night how he felt upon being told of the decision, Okajima responded through a translator with a simple “disappointed.”
That said, Okajima recognizes that a call-up to Boston could be right around the corner if he pitches well in Pawtucket, which he has so far. He tossed a perfect inning in the season opener Thursday and followed that up with a one-hit scoreless inning Saturday.
“It’s all about results over here,” Okajima said. “So I’ll do whatever I’m needed to and I’ll do everything that I’m told to do.”
Okajima didn’t produce those results last season, when the former All-Star posted a 4.50 ERA and 1.72 WHIP in 56 appearances. Both of those were easily career worsts. In his first three seasons, he never had an ERA higher than 3.39 or a WHIP higher than 1.26. A poor spring training (5.14 ERA, 1.57 WHIP) didn’t help his cause.
“I just felt that I had lost the battle at that point when I was told,” said the 35-year-old Okajima. “I had been preparing, of course, to start the season up in the majors. So I had been preparing that way, getting my body ready. But since I’ve been told, I’ve had to regroup myself, get myself ready again and start back from [square] one.”
One of the things Okajima said he had been working on was ways to get right-handed batters out. Righties hit an eye-popping .340 off him last season. Okajima said part of the reason for his struggles could be that major league hitters are getting used to his stuff, meaning he needs to make some adjustments.
“I’m sure the opposition has been studying me and the more they see me, the more they get used to me,” Okajima said. “So my plan in preparing for this season, I was studying and developing pitches to attack right-handed batters. I was really looking forward to using that up in the big leagues, but since this happened, I’ll just have to try those out here and hopefully everything goes well and I can make it back up.”
Pawtucket coach Arnie Beyeler said his plan is to just let Okajima pitch enough to work out any kinks he might have in his game. He dismissed the idea of using him along the lines of a situational lefty, saying he’d rather use Okajima — and all his relievers for that matter — on an inning-by-inning basis.
“I just want to get him in the lineup and let him pitch and let him get guys out,” Beyeler said. “I think that’s the goal, is to let him throw and do what he does and get his work in. Hopefully sometime down the road, he gets the opportunity to get out of here.”
Until he gets that opportunity to return to Boston, though, Okajima will be someone the younger pitchers in Pawtucket look to for guidance.
“He works hard,” fellow pitcher Michael Bowden said. “He was working his butt off [in spring training] and he’s going to continue to work his butt off, and he has been. So he’s going to do everything he can to get back there, just like everyone here is doing everything they can to get back there.
“It’s not nice to see him down here, in that I’d like him to be in the big leagues, but it’s nice to have a guy like that down here that you can talk to and ask questions. He’s been through a lot of stuff and has a lot of big league experience.”
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