If the Orioles have a glaring weakness, it’s their bullpen depth.
On Wednesday, the team took a step toward correcting that.
The Orioles announced they have acquired Shintaro Fujinami from Oakland for pitcher Easton Lucas. Lucas, a 14th-round pick in 2019, was in Triple-A.
Josh Lester was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
Fujinami, 29, played nine years in Nippon Professional Baseball for the Hanshin Tigers before signing a one-year, $3.25 million contract with Oakland in January. He started his season in the rotation but moved to the bullpen after four starts.
The adjustment to MLB hasn’t been the smoothest for Fujinami, but he has the track record from his time in the NPB, where he was a three-time All-Star. He’s shown improvements as a reliever, which is how the Orioles will likely use him. When starting, Fujinami holds a 14.26 ERA in seven games; his relief ERA drops to 5.40. In July, he has pitched to a 2.25 ERA with a .154 opponent batting average.
The upside is there. Fujinami’s fastball velocity sits in the 83rd percentile, according to Statcast, and his whiff rate is in the 85th percentile. Although the 6-foot-6 hurler has been hit hard, he throws a mix that mainly includes a four-seam fastball, splitter and cutter. Fujinami also has a sweeper that he’s thrown 5.2% of the time this season, and that specific offering has been a specialization for the Orioles pitching staff to maximize.
The Orioles have a track record of player development wins, and they hope Fujinami will be the latest name added to that list. Right-hander Yennier Cano made this season’s All-Star Game after allowing nine runs in 4 1/3 innings for Baltimore last year. Left-hander Danny Coulombe, acquired in a trade right before the regular season began, has turned into a reliable middle-inning arm. And right-hander Félix Bautista is now an All-Star after spending six seasons in the Orioles farm system.
In return, the Orioles are sending Oakland a Triple-A reliever. Lucas had a successful Arizona Fall League spell last year and, instead of shutting down for the winter, he asked to keep throwing to maintain his arm strength. The result was a fastball that was consistently in the mid-90s, and he added a hard slider that deepened his arsenal this season. He had a 2.91 ERA in 30 2/3 innings pitched across Double-A and Triple-A this season.