Tazawa Makes Strong First Impression

BOSTON—When righthander Junichi Tazawa signed with the Red Sox in the offseason, most of the focus was on his decision to bypass the Japanese draft and begin his professional career in the U.S. After his first half-season, however, the focus has shifted to his outstanding work on the mound.

After a dominant spring training (1.00 ERA, 10 strikeouts in nine innings), Tazawa was assigned to Double-A Portland, where he has made a couple of phrases very popular among his Sea Dogs teammates. Other Portland players have taken to saying "saiko," or good job, following the pitcher's outings, and "egui" to describe a particularly "sick" pitch.

Tazawa was 9-5, 2.74 with 83 strikeouts in 92 innings with Portland, also earning an invite to the Futures Game. He has shown an advanced four-pitch mix—fastball, slider, curve, splitter—and adeptly changes speeds with all his pitches.

"It's a great combination," Portland pitching coach Mike Cather said. "(His performance) has been steady, but I think that the progress of the plan that he's taking out there from game-to-game has gotten much more defined: setting up hitters, usage of his stuff, execution of his fastball and fastball command, how he attacks the hitter."

For now, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Tazawa typically works with an 88-92 mph fastball, but he touches 93-94 mph, and over the long term the Sox say he might be able to hold that velocity as he benefits from a strengthening program.

Because Tazawa, 23, is in his first pro season, and is coming from a background with which the Sox have little experience, mapping out the duration of his season is a bit tricky. He assumed a significant workload (described as anywhere from 150-180 innings) while pitching in a Japanese amateur industrial league last year, but the Sox may consider using him as a reliever later this season to manage his workload. Some of the decision will be based on how he performs in strength tests.

"He may get some innings as a reliever, but we'll see. Right now, nothing's really been mapped out," farm director Mike Hazen said.

Sox Yarns

• Casey Kelly finished the pitching portion of his season with a scoreless inning in the Futures Game. At least at the start of his time as a position player, the Sox expect to use him as a DH more than he plays shortstop to assure that he doesn't overtax his arm.

• The Sox promoted outfielder Jason Place, a 2006 first-rounder, to Portland, after judging that he had significantly improved his approach at the plate, with improved walk rates and a decline in strikeout rate.