Hideki Okajima wants to return to MLB after year in Japan

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I do believe this would be a first: Japanese player returns to MLB after previously returning to Japan.

That’s what former Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima is looking to do after posting a 0.94 ERA in 47 2/3 innings for the SoftBank Hawks in 2012.

Of course, Okajima never wanted to go back to pitching in Japan in the first place. He signed a minor league deal with the Yankees last spring, only to have the contract voided because of an undisclosed physical issue. As it turns out, he probably would have been pretty useful had the Yankees kept him around.

Okajima, who turns 37 in December, had a 3.11 ERA in 246 1/3 innings for the Red Sox between 2007-11. He hasn’t really been a successful big-league reliever since 2009, but as long as he’s willing to take a minor league contract, there will probably be at least a few teams interested in his services.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉