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Nothing lost in transition, translation for Saito

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / February 11, 2009
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Takashi Saito is already beginning to feel at home among the Red Sox. Not only has the pitcher been reunited with former Dodgers teammate Brad Penny, but the introductions to his new clubhouse-mates are clearly going well.

Take the other day, when Penny, Saito, and Jonathan Papelbon met at a local supermarket.

"Papelbon was one of the first guys I met when I came out here on the field the other day, then I also ran into him at the supermarket the other day," Saito said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. "Penny was there also. Penny was explaining to Papelbon that I'm Korean, so we already had some joking around. I'm looking forward to pitching with them."

No sooner had Hoshino finished his translation than Saito helped explain, in English: "I said, 'I'm Japanese! I'm Japanese!' "

Whatever his nationality is - and he is from Japan, like fellow Red Sox Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, and Junichi Tazawa - Saito seems ready to go, ready to show his new teammates and fans that he's healed from the elbow injury that kept him off the field for about two months last season. He expects to be on the same spring program as the rest of the pitchers.

"On the elbow, I feel that it's in extremely good condition," said Saito, who was the closer for Los Angeles. "But I can only say it's good so much. I think it's just going to take time to have these guys take a good look at it, work it out over time, hopefully prove to you guys over time that it's really in good shape.

As for surgery, "The reason I didn't elect for surgery - even though that was certainly an option - is because the rehab alone from that would take about a year.

"At my age, I didn't feel like that was an option that I wanted to take. In terms of the actual things I did instead of surgery, there's a lot of parts involved. It's tough to talk about in a short period of time."

But there is good news for Saito, at least on a personal level: The trash talk about Penny to the media already has started.

"I think physically there aren't many restrictions in general," Saito said, explaining that he had suffered through some calf problems the past two seasons. "There's nothing to worry about on the elbow. I'm pretty sure I can keep up with Brad Penny."

New starts for pitchers
There were two arrivals yesterday, both newbies to the Sox. Penny and John Smoltz showed up at the player development complex, with Smoltz heading out to throw a football. Both pitchers are coming to Boston with injury concerns; Penny is expected to be ready for spring training, while Smoltz will not be game-ready for the start of the regular season as he is coming off shoulder surgery . . . Tazawa, who signed with the Sox in the offseason, has had the chance to meet a few of the Sox' Japanese-born players. Though Matsuzaka won't be in town until the end of spring training because of the World Baseball Classic, Tazawa has spent time with Saito and Okajima. He is expected to start the season in Double A, having signed out of the Japan Industrial League. "I've seen these guys do some amazing things on TV," Tazawa said, through Hoshino. "Never did I think that I'd actually have a chance to speak to them face-to-face, so to be honest I'm a little bit nervous right now." . . . Given the four Japanese players on the Sox' 40-man roster, Saito was asked if the perception of the organization had changed in the past couple of years. "I think the people in Japan think that the Red Sox are the best franchise in baseball, better than the Yankees now," Saito said. "I think it's because of the hard work that Matsuzaka and Okajima have put in. That's changed that image in Japan."

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