Junichi Tazawa wants to start for the Red Sox
In a recent interview with David Laurila of FanGraphs, Junichi Tazawa spoke on his role. Tazawa, who has excelled as a setup man for the Red Sox over the past three seasons, commented that he’s willing to do anything to help the Red Sox but would prefer to either close or start. His desire to close is no real surprise; closers are generally considered the best relievers and certainly receive more national exposure than middle relievers or setup men. However, it is a bit of a surprise to hear that Tazawa is interested in starting for the Red Sox and that could represent an intriguing possibility for their rotation.
Tazawa burst onto the scene with a 1.43 ERA in 37 appearances out of the Red Sox bullpen in 2012, complementing that stingy ERA with equally impressive peripherals including a 9.00 K/BB and 1.82 FIP. He has regressed a bit in his next two seasons, posting 3.16 and 2.86 ERA’s in 2013 and 2014, respectively, but has remained a great piece at the back end of the Red Sox bullpen.
With Koji Uehara unlikely to close (at least on a full time basis) in 2015, the Red Sox could be in search of a closer this offseason and Tazawa could certainly fill that role. However, the more intriguing possibility is him moving to the rotation, which is significantly more depleted than the bullpen.
Tazawa was a starter when he came to the Red Sox out of Japan and he did start four games for the Red Sox in 2009, though the results weren’t pretty as “Taz” posted a 7.46 ERA in 6 total appearances. However, he has largely abandoned starting since undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2010 and, as previously mentioned, hasn’t given the Red Sox a reason to move him back to the rotation as he has been excellent in relief.
With such an empty rotation, though, perhaps the Red Sox will look into making Tazawa a member of their starting five next season. It all depends on how they play the free agent and trade markets, but if the Red Sox are unable to acquire two above-average pitchers (including one ace), then they could seek to fill that role internally by stretching out Tazawa as a starter.
It’s tough to know what to expect from Tazawa were he to be placed in the rotation but he certainly has the stuff to get by. His fastball sits in the mid 90’s (though that would likely drop a bit when starting) and he throws a solid change and slider to accompany his heater. Tazawa also has great endurance as he has made 71 appearances in each of the past two regular seasons and he also pitched in 13 more games during the Red Sox World Championship run last October, which should quell any fears over workload.
It’s unlikely that the Red Sox will move Tazawa to the rotation as he is an unproven commodity there and is a very reliable late-inning reliever. However, it’s interesting to know that he would be willing to start and could likely adjust to that role. Don’t expect a move to the rotation anytime soon but Tazawa has proven himself time and time again in the bullpen and, who knows, maybe he’ll get his shot as a starter one day.