Hideki Okajima signed with the Red Sox before the 2007 season. Few noticed because of all the attention paid to Daisuke Matsuzaka.
But the lefty proved to be a terrific addition to the bullpen. He made the All-Star team that season and pitched well in the American League playoffs. Terry Francona called on him 66 times that season and he always seemed to do the job.
Okajima does not throw especially hard but maintains arm speed on his change-up and locates his pitches well. His delivery creates deception as well with his head movement.
But that deception has been incrementally disappearing over the years. Okajima’s earned run average has crept up steadily along with the number of walks, hits and home runs he has allowed. His strikeouts have gone down. Check out his stats yourself.
These are Okajima’s numbers since last Aug. 29:
37 hits (6 home runs)
18 earned runs
Opponents are hitting .333 against him in that stretch and Okakima has a 6.23 ERA. A 1.88 WHIP over 34 appearances is a fairly significant sample size for a reliever.
Francona has slid Okajima out of the set-up role since the first few weeks of the season. Daniel Bard is now the eighth-inning man unless he needs a day off. Okajima has become more of a specialist or somebody to get a few outs in the seventh inning.
Sunday’s game against Baltimore was the latest example of Okajima’s decline. That game was lost when he walked Baltimore’s No. 9 hitter, Cesar Izturis, to start the bottom of the 11th inning.
Izturis walked on five pitches. This was a guy with a .286 on-base percentage and no power. You have to throw him strikes.
But Izturis walked and next thing you know, the Sox had lost a game to the worst team in baseball.
Okajima built a reputation as a reliable reliever during his first two seasons in the league, and deservedly so. But that’s no longer the case.
Outside of Bard and Papelbon, who do you really trust coming out of the Red Sox bullpen in a tight spot? Maybe Manny Delcarmen. But that’s it. As the Sox prepare for remaining 100 or so games of the season, they need to patch up that bullpen.