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Hideki Okajima: Signing with Red Sox ‘not a mistake’

05.20.11 at 12:07 am ET

It has been a challenging year for left-hander Hideki Okajima. The 35-year-old, an All-Star in 2007, was non-tendered by the Red Sox in December, making him a free agent so that the team would not have to give him a raise over the $2.75 million he earned in 2010. But Okajima ended up returning to the Sox, signing a one-year, $1.75 million deal.

But the left-hander has been subjected to some confounding firsts in 2011. The club optioned him to Triple-A Pawtucket to open the year. He remained in Pawtucket until mid-April, when the team recalled him after optioning Felix Doubront.

But Okajima was seldom used by the Sox since his return to the majors. He appeared in seven games over roughly a month in the majors, and had not seen game action since May 9 against the Twins (a game, incidentally, in which Okajima claimed the victory after tossing two scoreless innings). He has a 4.32 ERA, six strikeouts and five walks in 8 1/3 innings, and had seemingly been passed by Rich Hill as the go-to left-hander for the Sox.

And so, when the Sox made a deal for another left-hander, Franklin Morales, on Thursday night, they cleared a spot on the major league and 40-man rosters by designating Okajima for assignment. GM Theo Epstein said that the Sox would explore the trade market for Okajima; if none materializes, then the club will return him to Pawtucket.

For Okajima, this latest turn of his season represents uncharted territory.

‘€œI started the season down in the Minor Leagues, so I know I had to regain the team’€™s confidence in my pitching,” Okajima told reporters through an interpreter. “It is my first time in this situation so I’€™m not sure of what happens next.’€

That said, Okajima did not begrudge the Sox’ decisions, and suggested that he did not regret re-signing this winter with the only club for whom he’s pitched since coming to the U.S. in 2007.

‘€œHaving re-signed with Boston during the offseason, it is disappointing that this is happening but signing here was not a mistake,” said Okajima. “I am very grateful to the opportunity the Red Sox have given me over five years.’€

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