The Red Sox today placed righthander Junichi Tazawa on the 60-day disabled list with a mild left groin strain, ending his remarkable first season in the United States with the Red Sox.
Tazawa tweaked his left groin Sept. 4, while covering first base as a reliever against the Chicago White Sox. Tazawa has not pitched since, and “he’s in that time of year where, everything he’s gone through, we really wanted to keep an eye on him,” manager Terry Francona said. “This is the right thing to do for him. He’s had a lot thrown at him this year.”
At this point last year, Tazawa was still one month away from concluding his season with Nippon Oil in Japan’s semi-professional Industrial League. Tazawa caused a stir when he signed with the Red Sox before playing a major Japanese league. He became a sensation in major league camp with the Red Sox and began the year in Double A, where he quickly became a staff anchor for Portland.
“He said the biggest thing was the weather in Portland,” Francona said. “That’s the one thing. He said the weather was awful.”
Tazawa debuted with Triple A Pawtucket on July 28 “and was probably supposed to stay there and pitch,” Francona said. On Aug. 7, while the Red Sox temporarily unraveled, they needed an arm for their bullpen and, desperately, chose Tazawa.
Later that night, the Sox ran out of relievers in the 14th inning of a scoreless game at Yankee Stadium. Tazawa jogged in from the bullpen and, as the first major hitter he ever faced, confronted Hideki Matsui, one of the biggest sports starts ever from his country.
Tazawa retired Matsui, but later, in the 15th inning, he allowed a walk-off home run. He stared at the ball fly over the leftfield fence before he slowly walked back into the Red Sox dugout. “That was just one pitch,” catcher Jason Varitek said.
Tazawa never let it become anything more. He made four starts, including a six-inning shutout of the Yankees, and allowed 14 earned runs in 20 innings. The Sox’ rotation got healthy and Tazawa went to the bullpen, a typical place for an atypical season to end.
“That’s the one thing we really told him today,” Francona said. “He’s to be congratulated. He had an unbelievable year. If you think about, last year at this time he was probably just finishing up the Industrial League. He goes what he goes through, comes to spring training. There’s a lot of unknowns with him, and he just lit it up in spring training.
“I think what you’ll see next year is a guy coming to camp that feels he belongs. Everything you feel about the American guys, take it even a step further with him. He doesn’t have to get shown around. He knows where he’s going. I imagine his comfort level must be 10-fold better. You’ll see a more confident pitcher. He’s already, in my opinion, unbelieveably confident to handle what he’s handled.
“We watched him really close this spring, just to see how he handled things,” Francona said. “I worried about that. Think about it. He didn’t speak the language very much. He never seemed to waver. He went about his business and did what he’s supposed to. He’d ask a question. He did a good job.”
Tazawa will still travel with the Red Sox for the remainder of the season. He said he relied on Takashi Saito and Ramon Ramirez, who knows Japanese from his time playing in Japan, for guidance and was appreciative.
“I had no idea what to be able to expect this year,” Tazawa said through translator Masa Hoshino. “I was anxious about a lot of different things. But looking back on it, I think I had a better year than I could ever have hoped for it. It was a great year.”