Orioles interested in Japanese lefty Takahashi

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Last offseason the Orioles signed veteran Japanese starter Koji Uehara to a two-year, $10 million deal and now they’re reportedly interested in his former Yomiuri Giants teammate Hisanori Takahashi.
Baltimore also made a run at Kenshin Kawakami last winter before he ended up in Atlanta, so the Orioles are suddenly very active in pursuing Japanese players. Uehara spent most of the season on the disabled list with an elbow injury, but when healthy he posted a solid 4.05 ERA and 48/12 K/BB ratio in a dozen starts.
Uehara was once among the best pitchers in Japan, whereas Takahashi has been more of a mid-rotation guy. Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker notes that Takahashi turns 36 years old in April and works with a fastball that rarely cracks 90 miles per hour, but also features “an excellent screwball” and was very effective this season with a 2.94 ERA and 121/36 K/BB ratio in 144 innings.
Takahashi has said previously that he wants to remain a starter, but Newman suggests that he “seems better suited for the bullpen” and could be “an effective reliever in the Hideki Okajima mold.” That would obviously be a best-case scenario given that Okajima has a 2.72 ERA in 192 innings for the Red Sox, but he’s shown that Japanese lefties with good, unconventional off-speed stuff can thrive in the majors despite high-80s fastballs.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.