FORT MYERS, Fla. - His interpreter, Jeff Yamaguchi, had just indicated that Hideki Okajima had spent time in the offseason working on new pitches and new techniques. What pitches? What was Okajima going to use to keep hitters off balance, the way he had throughout his stellar rookie year?
"Secret," Okajima said in English, and laughed.
Though he wouldn't go into detail about his new arsenal, the Red Sox reliever had a full offseason, including about three weeks in Cairns, Australia, with Yamaguchi, where he played golf in the morning and worked on his pitching in the afternoon. It was a combination vacation and training session, qualifying as a bit of a respite from an offseason in which Okajima returned to Japan a superstar. From relatively unknown Japanese League player to in-demand attraction - for events and interviews and appearances - Okajima was transformed into a huge draw by his impressive performance on a World Series-winning team.
He arrived here last Friday, well in advance of today's reporting date for pitchers and catchers. He spent a few days at the player development complex, including the last two, throwing and getting ready for the season, one in which he'll face the challenge of not wearing down toward the end of the year, as he did in 2007.
Of that, Okajima said through Yamaguchi, "I ran out of gas in September, so I had to rest a little bit, but somehow I got through it. It was a great rest because I was able to pitch great in the playoffs. If I didn't take that rest, I could have broken down at some point."
Okajima was shut down in mid-September because of fatigue or a dead arm, though the club was loath to acknowledge the situation. Before being given the rest, Okajima had a 7.04 ERA in 17 appearances from Aug. 1 to Sept. 14. He didn't pitch again until Sept. 27, appearing in two games before the postseason. There Okajima went unscored upon over 7 1/3 innings in the first two rounds, though he allowed two home runs and three earned runs in 3 2/3 innings in the World Series.
This year, the pitcher wants to ensure that he doesn't experience fatigue. He also knows that, even without a new pitch, pitching in the "same pattern" he used last season isn't going to work with experienced major leaguers, he said. He'll have to adjust both his pitch selection and his workouts, to try to keep hitters off balance and himself on.
"Especially the first half, I'm going to have less practice, less pitches thrown in practice," Okajima said. "Try to make myself peak at the end of the season, September, October."
Few early returnsUnlike in past seasons, the major league arrivals have been few and far between. But the rest of the pitchers and catchers are expected to show up today, with physicals scheduled for tomorrow. With so many holdovers from last season, there shouldn't be too many pitchers getting adjusted to their surroundings. The Sox are likely to carry 12 pitchers to start the season, including the expected rotation (Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, and probably Clay Buchholz) . . . Kyle Snyder was the only notable arrival at camp yesterday . . . With inclement weather, it was a rather slow day around the player development complex. A group of pitchers (including Lester, Craig Hansen, Buchholz, Michael Bowden, and Justin Masterson) headed to the outdoor bullpen mounds to throw in the morning before realizing that the mounds were too wet to use. They were forced to throw inside . . . Matsuzaka got caught in a thunder and lightning storm on one of the far fields, which forced him to sprint into the locker room. He arrived soaked, dripping, and out of breath, but with a smile.
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.