FULL COUNT: Okajima debuts, most doing well, a handful in decline

Nearing the end of the second month of the season, Athletics fans finally got to see the return of lefty specialist Hideki Okajima on May 19 against the Kansas City Royals, two days after he was called up to Oakland. He faced five batters, allowing one walk, one hit, and no runs in his first major league action since 2011. Okajima has a 3.86 ERA in two appearances.

Shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima was reinstated from the Athletics’ 15-day disabled list on May 24 and optioned back to Triple-A Sacramento. Nakajima signed a two-year deal with Oakland this spring, but the need for him has rapidly declined with the emergence of Jed Lowrie.

Giants’ second baseman Kensuke Tanaka continues to excel in Triple-A Fresno. He’s batting .317 with a .380 on-base percentage, 17 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases. If he keeps it up, Tanaka will earn a call up to San Francisco in September, if not sooner.

Texas Rangers starter Yu Darvish (7-2) was strong in a no decision at Arizona on May 27. It was the third time this season he struck out 14 batters. Darvish leads the majors with 105 strikeouts.
Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (5-1) is quietly having a great season with a 2.35 ERA, 69 strikeouts, and 0.84 WHIP in 11 starts.

Jerome Williams (4-1) Williams’ last four starts, including his May 26 outing, have all been quality starts. During that stretch, he’s 3-0 with a 2.03 ERA, 1.125 WHIP, and 16:5 K:BB ratio across 26.2 innings. He has a 2.58 ERA and 33 strikeouts with a 1.13 WHIP.

New York Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda (6-3) has been experiencing soreness in his calf, but will not miss any starts. He has a 2.39 ERA and 46 strikeouts thus far.

Red Sox eighth-inning setup man Koji Uehara is scoreless in seven consecutive appearances with 12 strikeouts in seven innings. He’s struck out 28 and walked four in 19.2 innings this season. Also stellar is Junichi Tazawa (4-2) who has recorded nine holds, 29 strikeouts and a 1.16 WHIP. Outfielder Shane Victorino (hamstring) should be activated from the DL on June 5 and take a rehab assignment before returning to Boston.
Kurt Suzuki has returned as the Washington Nationals everyday catcher. He’s batting .256 with two home runs and 10 RBIs.

Milwaukee’s lead-off man Norichika Aoki continues to be a bright spot with the top of the order for the Brewers as his season slash line is now .307/.379/.418.

On May 26, Blue Jays infielder Munenori Kawasaki doubled to deep left center to drive in two runs, powering Toronto to a 6-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Down in Los Angeles, Brandon League is no longer the Dodgers official closer after blowing his eighth save on May 19. With a 4.66 ERA, the big money reliever is falling out of favor with manager Don Mattingly.

Equally bad is Chicago Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney, who is batting a miserable .200. News isn’t any better for his teammate Kyuji Fujikawa (1-1) who was placed on the 15-day disabled list after feeling a snap in his right arm on May 26. It is unclear how much time Fujikawa will miss, but it doesn’t look good.

Fans don’t want to hear it, but Ichiro Suzuki is clearly on the decline with a .245 batting average and .283 OBP. He’s likely to lose his starting job soon with manager Joe Girardi wanting to go with outfielders Curtis Granderson, Vernon Wells and Brett Gardner.

After a hot start, Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (5-3) has tanked, giving up 17 earned runs and eight homers over his last three starts, while leading the majors with 15 home runs allowed this season.
It is also reported that former Rangers closer Akinori Otsuka, 41, is attempting a comeback with the Shinano Grandserows of the independent Baseball Challenge League in Japan. He last pitched in the majors in 2007.

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. Follow him @drewmorita or e-mail him at drew_morita@yahoo.com.

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