Hideki Okajima Picks-up Where He Left Off

One Mayor’s Cup game down and Hideki Okajima is already showing his ugly side. There was a reason the Red Sox did not re-sign the lefty immediately following the season and waited until they had only a few other options before inking a deal. In 1 inning of relief on Sunday night, Okajima allowed 5 hits and 4 earned runs, blowing the game open for the Twins. It is only his 1st outing of the Spring and usually that means nothing going forward as long as their is improvement, but it certainly doesn’t help him fall into the manager’s good graces. In a normal year, he would have a leg-up to make the major league club because of his previous experience, but he has opened the door wide for others to step into the lefty-specialist role in the bullpen.

After arriving in Boston before the 2007 season, expectations were low for the Japanese reliever. He was expected to fill a role in the ‘pen, but instead, had an incredible season as a top set-up man. He had a 2.22 era and allowed just 17 home runs in 69 innings. The following season was strong, but less impressive, with a 2.61 era and 18 home runs allowed in 62 innings. He has drastically digressed the past 2 years, posting a combined 3.87 era (4.50 last year), allowing 46 home runs in 107 innings, an astronomically high number for a reliever. He allowed a home run every other 2.28 innings, making him utterly unreliable. The only thing going for him was his solid 2.10 K to BB ratio.

An even more disturbing stat from 2010 was his average against lefty batters. He allowed opponent lefties to hit .284 against him, where in 2009 he allowed them to hit just .167. Considering he is fighting for a lefty-specialist job, that number will have to be closer to the .167 mark in order for him to be even remotely effective in 2011 (if he makes the team). In his 1st outing yesterday, lefties hit .500 against Okajima, going 1 for 2. The sample is too small to tell us much of anything yet, but I’m not sure we are ever going to see the return of the dominant lefty-lefty match-up Okajima has produced in the past.

On the flip side, both Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz looked solid in their debuts. Beckett allowed 2 hits and 1 earned run in 2 innings, which although not quite up to his standards, was a decent start. He appears to be a healthy and past the horrible outings he produced last season while injured. Buchholz pitched 2 shutout innings with 1 strikeout, which is all you can ask in a person’s Spring debut. The Sox play the Twins for the 2nd of 3 straight days on Monday at 1:05pm. Watch for the Red Sox debut of the 5-tool man, Carl Crawford.

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Tags: Boston Red Sox Bullpen Carl Crawford Clay Buchholz Hideki Okajima Josh Beckett Mayor's Cup Minnesota Twins Spring Training

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