Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura puts together first perfect outing of spring; ‘You can tell he feels more comfortable,’ Alex Cora says

Pitching in a game that was broadcast on NESN for the first time this spring, Red Sox reliever Hirokazau Sawamura put together what was without a doubt his most impressive outing with his new team thus far.

Coming into Wednesday night’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles, the Japanese right-hander having allowed two earned runs on three hits and seven walks through his first three appearances and 2 1/3 innings pitched of the spring. That’s good for an ERA of 7.71.

After Nathan Eovaldi recorded the first 17 outs on Wednesday in pretty simple fashion, Red Sox manager Alex Cora departed from the third base dugout to give the veteran starter the hook in favor of Sawamura.

With the bases empty and one out to get in the top half of the sixth, the 32-year-old got that out by getting Tyler Nevin to ground out to first to retire the side.

An inning later, Sawamura came back out for the sixth, marking the first time this spring he was going to be used in multiple frames. The righty did not miss a beat, though, as he proceeded to punch out both Rio Ruiz and Pat Valaika before inducing a groundout off the bat of Ramon Urias to end things there.

All in all, Sawamura needed all of 23 pitches to get four outs en route to picking up his second hold of the spring.

Since signing a two-year, $3 million deal — which includes a dual club/player option for 2023 — with the Sox back in February, it’s fair to say the past few weeks have been an adjustment period for Sawamura.

Not only is he dealing with a new country and new culture, but he is also adjusting to a style of baseball in the United States that differs from what he had grown accustomed to in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization overseas.

That being said, Sawamura, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, is clearly starting to find his footing with the Sox. Wednesday’s performance marked his second consecutive scoreless appearance out of the Boston bullpen, and it also marked the first time all spring he did not allow a single base runner.

The fact he worked multiple innings for the first time indicates just how vital he could be for Boston’s pitching plans in 2021.

“That was important,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of getting Sawamura into a multi-inning appearance. “He’s going to have to do that during the season. And you can tell he feels more comfortable. He’s been able to throw his slider for strikes. Today was his best fastball out of all the outings. The split is still a work in progress. Little that we knew. We thought we had a fastball up, split guy. Now he’s developed a slider all of a sudden. And it’s a really good one. He can throw it for strikes and expand. We just wanted to see that and he did an outstanding job.”

Known for his fastball and splitter combination during his time with the Yomiuri Giants and Chiba Lotte Marines over the course of a 10-year career in Japan, Sawamura figures to emerge as late-inning option out of the Sox’ bullpen for Cora once the regular season begins.

Before Opening Day, though, the next step for Sawamura will be to pitch on back-to-back days, which should happen soon according to pitching coach Dave Bush.

“We’re trying to encourage him just to get comfortable and go one step at a time,” Bush said earlier Wednesday afternoon. “Each outing has been better than the previous one… He’s going to have back-to-back appearances coming up soon. Offhand, I don’t know the exact days, but it will be soon. He’s built up well. He’s getting better each time and is on the right path.”

The two-year contract Samura signed with the Red Sox over the winter does include a unique dual option for a potential third year in 2023, and it also includes escalators and bonuses that could take its total value up to $7.65 million.

(Picture of Hirokazu Sawamura: Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Red Sox make Hirokazu Sawamura signing official, designate Jeffrey Springs for assignment

The Red Sox have officially signed right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura to a two-year contract that includes a dual club/player option for the 2023 season, the team announced Tuesday.

In order to make room for Sawamura on their 40-man roster, Boston also designated left-hander Jeffrey Springs for assignment.

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Sawamura will earn $3 million over the next two seasons with the chance to earn a total of $7.65 million over the next three years if he “hits every performance bonus and escalator.”

Rosenthal also described Sawamura’s option as “conditional and complex,” and seeing how it is a dual club/player option, that would fit said description.

Expanding on that, MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo tweets that Sawamura will earn a base salary of $1.2 million in 2021 and a base salary of $1.2 million in 2022 that can escalate up to $1.7 million.

As for Sawamura’s dual option for 2023, Cotillo adds that if its a club option, it’s worth anywhere between $3 and $4 million depending on escalators. If the Red Sox decline that, the option then becomes a player option worth anywhere between $600,000 and $2.2 million depending on escalators.

For this year alone, Sawamura will count as a $1.2 million hit against Boston’s competitive balance tax threshold.

The soon-to-be 33-year-old hurler had been pitching in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball Organization since 2011, mostly for the Yomiuri Giants.

This past season, Sawamura got off to a tough start with Yomiuri and was ultimately dealt to the Chiba Lotte Marines as part of a midseason trade between the clubs.

Once he arrived in Chiba City though, things turned around for the better for the Japanese-born righty.

Across 22 relief appearances spanning 21 total innings of work, Sawamura posted a dazzling 1.71 ERA and 0.95 WHIP to go along with 29 strikeouts and just 10 walks.

Sawamura’s pitch arsenal consists of a 94-99 mph four-seam fastball, a swing-inducing splitter, and a below-average slider.

With his new club, Sawamura figures to slide into a late-inning role alongside the likes of Matt Barnes, Adam Ottavino, Ryan Brasier, Darwinzon Hernandez, and Josh Taylor.

As for Springs, the 28-year-old southpaw was designated for assignment 13 months after the Red Sox acquired him from the Texas Rangers in exchange for infielder Sam Travis.

In his debut season with Boston, Springs produced a 7.08 ERA and 4.81 FIP over 16 relief outings and 20 1/3 innings of work in two stints with the club.

That being said, there was a stretch from August 31 through September 23 of last season in which the North Carolina native thoroughly impressed to the tune of a 2.53 ERA and 2.39 xFIP over nine appearances out of the Sox’ bullpen.

Considering the fact he still has three minor-league options remaining, it would not be all that surprising to see another team take a chance on Springs through waivers.

Having said that, the Red Sox will have seven days to either trade Springs, release him, or try to sneak him through waivers themselves.

On another note, Boston’s 40-man roster is back at full capacity, so there will be another move to make in order to accommodate the signing of Marwin Gonzalez, which should be made official in the coming days.

(Picture of Hirokazu Sawamura: Sports Nippon/Getty Images)

Red Sox reach agreement with Japanese reliever Hirokazu Sawamura on two-year deal, per report

The Red Sox have reportedly reached agreement on a two-year, major-league contract with Japanese reliever Hirokazu Sawamura, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

Per Speier, who cites Japanese sports newspaper Sankei Sports, Sawamura’s deal is worth $2.4 million and could include more in additional incentives.

The veteran right-hander, who turns 33 in April, had pitched in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball Organization since 2011, most recently splitting time between the Yomiuri Giants and Chiba Lotte Marines in 2020.

To start out the campaign, Sawamura struggled with Yomiuri and put up an unsightly 6.08 ERA through his first 13 appearances and 13 1/3 innings of work on the year.

A midseason trade to Chiba Lotte turned things around for the 6-foot, 212 lb. righty, though, as he yielded just four earned runs on 10 hits, 10 walks, and 29 strikeouts over his final 22 relief outings and 21 innings pitched of 2020. That’s good for an ERA of 1.71 and WHIP of 0.95.

Sawamura has not started a game since 2015, so it seems likely that the Red Sox view him as a reliever moving forward.

Going off of that, Speier wrote: “Multiple evaluators saw Sawamura as at least a seventh-inning reliever, a pitcher who alternately dominates the strike zone with elite stuff and then loses the strike zone completely. Still, based on his peaks in the NPB, there’s a chance for an even more prominent late-innings role.”

Born in Tochigi, Japan, Sawamura’s pitch mix consists of a “high-octane fastball” that sits anywhere from 94-99 mph, “a hard swing-and-miss splitter” that sits in the low-90s, and a “below-average slider,” as noted by Speier.

Because he was an unrestricted free agent, Sawamura was not subject to the posting system between NPB and Major League Baseball. This means that the Red Sox do not have to pay Chiba Lotte a posting fee in order to acquire Sawamura’s services, which is something MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo pointed out on Sunday.

By reportedly signing Sawamura to a major-league contract, the Red Sox will have to clear a spot on their 40-man roster for the Japanese hurler. There will surely be more to come on that front.

(Picture of Hirokazu Sawamura: Sports Nippon/Getty Images)

Red Sox making progress on deal with Japanese reliever Hirokazu Sawamura, per report

The Red Sox are making progress towards a major-league deal with Japanese right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Per Cotillo, “it’s unclear if the sides have agreed to terms yet, but things certainly seem to be trending in that direction.”

Sawamura, who turns 33 in April, has since 2011 spent the entirety of his professional career in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization , most recently splitting the 2020 season between the Yomiuri Giants and Chiba Lotte Marines.

Over 35 total relief appearances with the two clubs, Sawamura initially struggled to the tune of a 6.08 ERA with Yomiuri, but turned things around for the better after gettind dealt to Chiba Lotte midseason.

In 22 outings out of the Marines bullpen, the 6-foot, 212 lb. righty posted a 1.71 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP, and a 29:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 21 innings of work. He also recorded one save and 13 holds.

As noted by Cotillo, Sawamura has not started a game in Japan since 2015, so he would likely be slated for a spot in the Red Sox’ bullpen if he were to sign with the club, which seems just about imminent at this point.

Going off another point Cotillo made, Sawamura is currently an unrestricted free agent, so he is not subject to the posting system between the NPB and Major League Baseball.

Put another way, Boston — or any other team — does not have to pay Chiba Lotte in order to acquire Sawamura’s services this offseason.

A native of Tochigi, Japan, Sawamura’s pitch arsenal consists of a high-velocity fastball, a low-90s splitter, and a slider, per MLB Trade Rumors’ Anthony Franco.

The fact that the Sox are in on someone like Sawamura does not come as much of a surprise given the club’s interest in other international free agents (Ha-Seong Kim, Kohei Arihara, Tomoyuki Sugano) this winter.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom addressed the international market for free-agent pitchers when speaking with WEEI’s Rob Bradford and Jon Meterparel back in late December.

“I think it’s more difficult in a sense than it is with a pitcher who has pitched a lot domestically, where you just have more information,” Bloom said when asked about evaluating talent overseas. “But, that doesn’t necessarily mean a pitcher from that market is an unwise investment. I think… there’s a lot more unknowns when you’re bringing someone over to compete in a different league, on a different schedule than they’re used to competing. But, baseball’s baseball. We have a number of examples, including in this organization, of guys coming from that market and having success. I think we have, as an industry, a decent ability to predict how they’ll do. So, that’s a market I think we need to involve ourselves in just like any other.”

(Picture of Hirokazu Sawamura: Sports Nippon/Getty Images)

Red Sox have ‘engaged in talks’ with former Rays left-hander Matt Moore this winter, per report

In their quest to shore up their starting pitching ahead of the 2021 season, the Red Sox are making sure to leave no stone unturned.

Plenty of names have popped up and been linked to the Sox in recent weeks, but there is one in particular this article will focus on: Matt Moore.

According to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, Boston has “engaged in talks” with Moore — among others — this winter.

The 31-year-old left-hander last pitched in the majors in 2019, making just two starts for the Tigers before suffering a meniscus tear in his right knee in early April that would eventually require season-ending surgery.

Prior to injuring his right knee, Moore had looked like he was on the rebound with Detroit after struggling mightily with the Giants and Rangers the previous two seasons. Over 10 scoreless innings of work, he yielded just three hits and one walk to go along with nine strikeouts in his first two outings as a Tiger.

That said, that knee ailment came at a rough time for the southpaw, as he would have to settle and sign a one-year deal with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan last offseason.

With the Hawks, though, Moore picked up where he left off in Detroit, posting a 2.65 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over 15 starts spanning 85 innings pitched in his first exposure to the NPB in 2020.

Taking that strong showing into consideration, it now appears as though the former All-Star is back on the scope of major-league teams.

The Athletic’s Peter Gammons tweeted earlier Tuesday that Moore “has become an intriguing free-agent” and is a “mid-rotation possibility for several clubs.”

Gammons added that Moore got up to 90-95 mph with his fastball velocity while getting his delivery back to a point where it is balanced.

Given the apparent intrigue in Moore from across baseball, it is understandable to see why the Red Sox would have interest here.

For starters, Moore, a Florida native, was selected by the Rays out of high school in the eighth round of the 2007 amateur draft, so there is an obvious Chaim Bloom connection there given the fact that the Red Sox’ chief baseball officer spent more than 14 years in Tampa Bay (2005-2019).

On top of that, as was mentioned earlier, the Sox find themselves in dire need of starting pitching help coming off a 2020 campaign in which the club’s starters put up a collective 5.34 ERA (second-worst in baseball) while working just 246 innings (second-lowest total in baseball).

Seeing how he hasn’t pitched a full major-league season in nearly three years, it’s hard to imagine that Moore’s asking price will be too high as he looks to reintroduce himself.

There certainly is some appeal here given the fact that he doesn’t turn 32 until June and, as noted by Cotillo, threw more innings (85) “than any big-leaguer during the shortened regular season.”

There’s also some things to be wary about with Moore, too. Such as the fact that he has a somewhat extensive history of injuries and has proven to be inconsistent at times.

All that being said, though, Bloom and Co. have not shied away from bringing in players they are familiar with so far this offseason.

Moore, who amassed 96 appearances (94 starts) as a member of the Rays from 2011-2016, meets that particular prerequisite. He also has some upside working with a pitch mix that includes a four-seam fastball, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup, per Baseball Savant.

(Picture of Matt Moore: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Former Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo heads to Japan, signs with NPB’s Rakuten Golden Eagles

UPDATE: Per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, Castillo will earn a base salary of $600,ooo with Rakuten with the chance to earn up to $1 million in incentives.

If there was any chance that former Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo would return to the major-, or minor-, leagues in 2021, those hopes officially went out the window on Saturday.

That being the case because the 33-year-old Castillo inked a contract with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization, per a team statement.

Castillo originally signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with Boston back in 2014. That contract ran out in November, making the Cuban-born outfielder a free agent.

Upon signing with the Sox in August 2014, Castillo got the chance to make an impact almost immediately, as he made his major-league debut on September 17.

In a brief, but impressive, first exposure to big-league pitching, the right-handed hitter posted a solid .333/.400/.528 slash line to go along with two home runs and six RBI over 10 games and 40 plate appearances through the end of the 2014 season.

That led many to believe that the Red Sox may have indeed found something in Castillo, but that turned out to not be the case for reasons that were very well out of his control.

After appearing in 80 games in 2015, Castillo received very little playing time the following year.

In the wake of an 0-for-3 showing against the Orioles on June 16, Castillo was placed on waivers, where he went unclaimed before getting outrighted from Boston’s 40-man roster on June 20.

From there, Castillo was essentially left in purgatory with Triple-A Pawtucket.

He put up decent numbers in an everyday role with the PawSox (career .761 OPS with 42 homers over 1,973 plate appearances), received invites to major-league spring training year in and year out, and ‘received consistently strong marks for his work ethic and commitment to prove that he didn’t belong’ in Triple-A, yet could never get the call back up due to his contract.

Put another way, as long as the Red Sox kept Castillo off their 40-man roster, his hefty contract would not be counted towards the team’s luxury tax bill.

So, that left Castillo in a spot where all he could really do was ride out his deal in Pawtucket. And he did so while keeping his apartment in Boston, too.

Upon becoming a free agent over the fall, Castillo signed on with Aguilas de Mexicali of the Mexican Pacific Winter League. He is currently slashing .250/.333/.288 with three doubles, six RBI, and three stolen bases over 22 games, per Baseball Reference.

With Rakuten, Castillo will wear the No. 12. In a statement released by the Golden Eagles, the veteran outfielder says, “I am very grateful for the opportunity to be a member of the Rakuten Eagles and am very much looking forward to playing in Japan. I hear that NPB is a great league, and above all, I love the disciplined culture of Japan.”

As noted by MLB Trade Rumors‘ Mark Polishuk, if Castillo finds success in Japan, it should be interesting to see if he has any major-league opportunities awaiting him next winter.

(Picture of Rusney Castillo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Red Sox ‘uninterested’ in exploring four-year deals for free-agent pitchers this winter, prefer ‘shorter-term deals of up to to two or three years in length’

Before coveted Japanese right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano returned to the Yomiuri Giants of the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization on Thursday, it appeared as though the Red Sox had at least some interest in signing the 31-year-old hurler before his posting period ended.

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, “the Sox had some interest in Sugano – who possesses excellent command of a four-pitch mix anchored by a low-90s fastball along with a slider and splitter – but his asking price exceeded the team’s level of interest.”

This is mainly the case because Sugano was reportedly seeking out a contract of four years or more from interested clubs, which apparently goes against Boston’s philosophy when it comes to signing free-agent pitchers this offseason.

In other words, the Red Sox “have been uninterested in exploring deals of that length for pitchers” and “have been focused on shorter-term deals of up to two or three years in length this winter,” per Speier.

Free-agent righty Jake Odorizzi would seemingly fit that mold after The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Wednesday that the 30-year-old “expects to land a three-year contract in the $36 million to $42 million range” at some point this winter.

Aside from Odorizzi, who is familiar with chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom from their time together in Tampa Bay, Speier notes that while top free-agent pitcher Trevor Bauer likely won’t garner interest from the Red Sox on account of his hefty price tag, the club is still very much in need of starting pitching help following a dismal 2020 campaign from its shorthanded rotation.

With that in mind, Boston may look into signing other veterans still on the market such as Corey Kluber or Rich Hill, both of whom reside in Massachusetts during the offseason.

Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, is expected to hold a workout — one in which the Red Sox will attend — for interested teams in Florida on January 13.

(Picture of Chaim Bloom: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)