Athletics

Fujinami impresses Kotsay in first A's bullpen: 'As advertised'

Athletics

Shintaro Fujinami was billed as a right-handed Japanese flamethrower who would contribute to the Athletics' rotation this season.

And after the pitcher's first bullpen session at Oakland's spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, A's manager Mark Kotsay had a straight-forward assessment of their key offseason addition.

"I thought he definitely comes as advertised in terms of stuff," Kotsay told reporters after the team's workout. "Obviously he had some nerves, which we chatted about, had a good conversation.

"But definitely comes as advertised with life on the heater, and his split's a good pitch."

After spending the last 10 years with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan, Fujinami signed a one-year contract worth $3.25 million with the A’s on Jan. 17. The 28-year-old enters his first MLB spring training after posting a career-best 1.118 WHIP in 107 1/3 innings last season in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball organization, thanks to a three-pitch arsenal with a low-90s splitter, sharp slider and high-heat fastball.

Fujinami was a high school phenom in the same draft class as Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani. Though it took him a bit longer to break through to the major leagues, Fujinami is looking forward to facing off against Ohtani in the AL West this year.

Already, Fujinami has noticed some differences between baseball in Japan and baseball in America as he continues to adjust.

"In Japan, I feel like it’s a lot more team activities, like team stretch, team throw, team defense,” Fujinami told reporters through Japanese interpreter Issei Yamada on Thursday (h/t The Mercury News). “Here, it’s more individualized. It’s a team sport, but it’s more individualized here.

 

“In Japan, your team activities are too long that your individual time is not much. Here you can focus on what to work on. At the same time, I feel more responsibility on myself. I have to be in charge of myself.”

Kotsay said the A's don't have a plan for Fujinami's workload yet as he acclimates to baseball in the states, but they do view him as a starting pitcher despite his most recent role as a reliever in Japan.

"It's too early to kind of map it out, too many variables are in front of us, but we're aware of his usage in Japan," Kotsay said. "Obviously I talked about his desire to be part of this, and he just wants to fit in.

"But in terms of how we're going to use him, we do see him obviously as a starting pitcher, but, again, it's just too far in advance right now to put a scope on it."

Despite the uncertainties surrounding Fujinami's eventual workload, Kotsay believes the pitcher could make an amount of starts in 2023 that aligns with the rest of the rotation.

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And as Fujinami gets settled in a new country and a new clubhouse, the A's international signing has fit in well so far.

"He's great," Kotsay said. "Says hello to everybody. He makes it a point to go out of his way to have conversations as much as he possibly can with guys. Issei, who's been his interpreter, is awesome, so we're hopeful that we can get [Fujinami] as comfortable and as relaxed as we can.

"Today, big day for him. The nerves were there, which is great. It tells you that he's where he belongs, because he's been waiting for this moment for a long time."