According to a report by Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun, the Orioles have signed former Boston and Oakland reliever Hideki Okajima, now 40 years old, to a minor league contract. Okajima’s contract does not include an invitation to major league spring training.
Okajima last pitched in the majors in 2013 with the Athletics, and last appeared in more than 10 games in 2010 with the Red Sox. Okajima’s “unconventional” delivery caught eyes immediately, as he turned his head toward third base before releasing the ball, calling into question his ability to hit the catcher’s mitt – seeing as, most times, he wasn’t even looking at it when he threw. However, Okajima was quite effective in his rookie season for the eventual 2007 World Series Champion Red Sox, appearing in 66 games and posting 2.22 ERA in 69.0 innings of work. His efforts were good enough to earn him a trip to the All-Star game in July as well as a sixth-place finish in that season’s Rookie of the Year voting. He was effective again in 2008 racking up an ERA of 2.61 in 62.0 innings, but that number declined to 3.39 in 2009 and 4.50 in 2010, his last full seasons in the majors. Okajima’s strikeout and walk numbers also regressed over the four years, going from a 3.71 K/BB rate in 2007 to just 1.65 in 2010.
Okajima pitched well in Japan in 2012, accumulating a 0.94 ERA in 47.2 innings with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japan Pacific League. After returning the MLB for 5 games in 2013, Okajima pitched in Japan again in 2014 and 2015. In 2014 he was again successful for Softbank, posting a 2.11 ERA in 42.2 innings, but pitched just 7.1 frames for the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2015, accumulating a dreadful 8.59 ERA.
Over 21 professional seasons in the Japan Central League, Japan Pacific League, Major League Baseball, and with the Triple-A Affiliates of the Red Sox and Athletics, Okajima is the owner of a lifetime 3.20 ERA and 1.255 WHIP across 1,086.0 innings pitched in 889 games. Okajima looks to compete for a bullpen role with the Orioles Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, in 2016.