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

05.20.11 at 12:07 am ET
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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.

“I 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.

“Having 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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