FULL COUNT: Okajima pursues return to MLB

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Veteran reliever Hideki Okajima was released by the Softbank Hawks on Jan. 28, enabling him to seek a deal with a major league club. The Oakland Athletics are among the teams interested in the 37-year-old who last pitched for Boston in 2011. He is expected to fill the lefty specialist role for whoever signs him. Although he was overshadowed by teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka for much of his five seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Okajima was an All-Star and primary setup man during their championship run in 2007. He had a 0.94 ERA in Japan last season.

On Jan. 29, the Oakland Athletics’ recently signed shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima was introduced to the sold-out crowd at FanFest at Oakland’s Oracle Arena. The 30-year-old is expected to make an immediate impact defensively and at the plate. The eight-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner has .371 on-base and .472 slugging percentages along with 141 stolen bases during his 10-year career with the Seibu Lions.

Across the bay, San Francisco Giants infielder Kensuke Tanaka is preparing to fill the void behind second baseman Marco Scutaro. The 31-year-old was signed on Jan. 10 following the departures of Emmanuel Burris and Ryan Theriot. Former Cincinnati Reds utility man Wilson Valdez will be his primary competition for a roster spot. Tanaka was an All-Star and Gold Glover with the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Former Giants first baseman and recent Baltimore Orioles signee Travis Ishikawa has a good chance to win the backup spot to Chris Davis this spring. Regarded for his defense, Ishikawa has a .995 fielding percentage at first. He won a World Series ring with San Francisco in 2010, and played for the Milwaukee Brewers last year.

Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair recently told WBAL radio that injury-prone starter Tsuyoshi Wada will not be ready to pitch until May or June, meaning he’s likely to begin the season with Triple-A Norfolk. The highly touted Wada has yet to appear in an MLB game after signing a two-year, $8.15 million contract in 2011. He’s been sidelined since tearing an elbow ligament last May.

Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino remains committed to playing in the World Baseball Classic next month as pitchers Kris Melden and Andy Pettitte were recently dropped from Team USA’s provisional roster. Final rosters must be submitted by Feb. 20.
Drew Morita, a Yonsei from the island of Kaua‘i, grew up rooting for the Oakland A’s but is now a loyal San Francisco Giants fan. He writes from San Francisco.

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