ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Shintaro Fujinami has had a lot of adjustments over the past four months.
There were the big ones, including moving from Japan to California to play for Oakland. He also had to learn how to be a reliever and how to change his style to fit into the MLB’s strike zone. Fujinami had smaller changes too, such as adapting to an American diet. That one, though, wasn’t too difficult for him.
“I can eat anything,” he said through Issei Kamada, who translated the interview.
Now, Fujinami will have to make one more adjustment. He was traded to the Orioles on Wednesday for minor league pitcher Easton Lucas, a move, Fujinami said, that surprised him. In a matter of days, he went from playing for a team with the worst record in the American League to the one with the best.
Fujinami was activated and will be available against the Rays on Friday night.
“I’m a little nervous. There’s a lot more people watching the games,” he said. “Obviously some situations in Oakland had some fans watching, but there’s going to be more fans. There’s a little bit of pressure.”
His numbers at first glance aren’t great, but the Orioles, who have a track record of reining in inconsistent relievers, believe in Fujinami’s upside. He began the season as a starter but, after having a 14.26 ERA in his first four games, was moved to the bullpen. His ERA as a reliever is 5.40, with a 2.25 ERA in July.
His improvement can be credited to a multitude of things. He spent 10 years in Nippon Professional Baseball, playing only for the Hanshin Tigers. It took time to get acquainted with a new team, and league, but once he did he started pitching better.
Mechanically, now that he’s pitching fewer innings, Fujinami dropped his repertoire to just his four-seam fastball and splitter. These are his top two pitches, and the ones he can control the best.
The ball in America is also slicker, which made it more difficult to command at first, and the strike zone is different. MLB’s zone is tighter on the bottom and wider at the top than NPB’s.
“I feel more comfortable pitching in the big leagues,” he said. “If I do my performance, I can get big league hitters out.”
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, in an effort to ease yet another transition Fujinami is undergoing, spent time with his new pitcher Friday afternoon. Hyde and Fujinami are both friends with the Padres’ Yu Darvish, forming an instant connection between the two.
The goal is to ease Fujinami into high-leverage innings, but, with Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano likely both down, Fujinami may be needed in late innings Friday.
“It was a pleasure. He is a really classy, professional guy,” Hyde said. “He’s excited to be here, and we’re excited to have him.”