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Sox bring back Okajima

By Peter Abraham and Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / January 2, 2011

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Hideki Okajima was a surprise All-Star for the Red Sox in 2007 and played a key role for a team that went on to win the World Series. The lefthanded reliever from Japan has been in a steady decline since, but the Sox aren’t giving up on him.

Okajima agreed to a one-year contract with Boston, pending a physical this week, according to a major league source. His addition would appear to complete the roster for the 2011 season.

With Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks the primary setup men, Okajima will compete for a bullpen spot as a lefthanded specialist with Rich Hill and Andrew Miller, who will come to spring training on minor league contracts. The Sox also have Felix Doubront, a 23-year-old prospect who could be used as a reliever or developed as a starter at Triple A Pawtucket.

Okajima, 35, had a 4.50 earned run average in 56 appearances last season. Righthanders hit .340 and had a .396 on-base percentage against him, not a surprise given his track record. But for the first time in his career, Okajima was ineffective against lefthanders, as they hit .284 with a .357 OBP.

Okajima had a 1.32 ERA in his final 16 appearances after a three-week stint on the disabled list with a hamstring strain. But only four of those appearances came with the Sox either up by a run, down by a run, or tied. He had a 2.70 ERA in those games.

The Red Sox did not tender Okajima a contract last month, unwilling to offer him a raise on the $2.75 million he made last season. He became a free agent but remained in the Boston area, hoping to return to the Sox.

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