PHOENIX — The Oakland Athletics and free agent left-hander Hideki Okajima finalized a minor league contract Tuesday after he passed a physical and immediately got to work.
Okajima played last season for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League, going 0-2 with a 0.94 ERA and nine saves in 56 relief appearances. He allowed only one home run and walked six batters in 47 2-3 innings
“I’m very happy to be back, very happy to come back with Oakland,” Okajima told reporters at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. “It’s nice to be on the West Coast. The weather is good. And it represents a real opportunity for me.”
Okajima spent the 2007-11 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, then signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees and was released at the start of 2012 spring training when he failed a physical.
A’s pitching coach Curt Young worked with Okajima in Boston.
“Okie knows how to get people out,” Young said Tuesday. “No matter what situation the year I was there we put him in he did a good job. He loves to throw, he’s healthy. I know he had a great year last year in Japan. He’s a veteran. He’s been through a lot of things, especially doing it there in Boston when they were winning the World Series. Experience is always good and it seems like he’s healthy.”
The 37-year-old was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in 8 1-3 innings over seven relief appearances for Boston in 2011 and 8-1 with a 2.29 ERA in 34 relief appearances with Triple-A Pawtucket.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin has a deep and proven bullpen, and believes Okajima will fit right in with the existing group.
“I’m excited to have him here. His numbers last year in Japan were off the chart,” Melvin said. “He’s 37, but he doesn’t look like he has a 37-year-old body. Our depth from the left side is very strong.”
Okajima becomes the second Japanese player currently with Oakland.
In December, the A’s gave Hiroyuki Nakajima a $6.5 million, two-year contract to be their shortstop. There will be ample attention from the large Japanese press corps again this year after Hideki Matsui played the 2011 season with the A’s.
Nakajima is an eight-time All-Star in Japan and a three-time Gold Glove winner. He has a .302 career batting average with 162 homers in 11 seasons with the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions. He has hit 20 or more homers in a season four times. He batted .311 with 29 doubles, 13 homers and 74 RBIs in 136 games for the Lions last season.