Tazawa May Find Home In Red Sox's Bullpen

FORT MYERS, FLA.—The Red Sox's signing of Junichi Tazawa in 2008 represented a significant event, as he was the most prominent Japanese amateur ever to bypass pro ball in Japan and start his career with a major league organization. In his first pro year in 2009, the righthander performed at a level worthy of the attention, blitzing through the Sox system and reaching the majors by the end of the year.

Since then, Tazawa has drifted into relative obscurity. He required Tommy John surgery that wiped out his entire 2010 season, and in 2011, his progression back from the surgery was slow.

Early in the year, when he started his rehab assignment, Tazawa was throwing in the mid-80s and getting hit. Day by day, his command and power returned, with improving results along the way.

He ended the season strong, posting a 2.51 ERA and 11.9 strikeouts per nine in 14 innings with Triple-A Pawtucket. Finally, on Sept. 13, more than two years after he'd last pitched in the majors, he returned to the big leagues by striking out a pair and allowing a run in an inning of work.

"I was really glad to experience the majors my first year. It was a great year. But I was really disappointed in myself getting injured my second year and struggling since then," Tazawa said. "Over the past two years, I haven't been in a position to contribute to the team. I'm really glad to be in that position this year."

Tazawa, 25, said that he feels his stuff now is better than it was pre-surgery, and early in spring training his mix of a fastball that was hitting 92-93 mph, splitter and slider made a favorable impression. During the offseason, Sox officials noted that they felt the 5-foot-11, 180-pound righthander would be in position to make a meaningful contribution in 2012.

The Sox are evaluating him as a reliever for the big league club this spring, viewing that as his most likely role to make an impact. Tazawa is less concerned about his job description than in the possibility that he is now ready to move his career forward.

"I actually feel better than I did before the surgery, and I believe I'm throwing better than I was," he said.

Sox Yarns

• Outfielder Ryan Kalish, who is recovering from offseason labrum surgery, started throwing on Feb. 29.

• Former big league reliever Joe Nelson joined the Red Sox as a pro scout. Nelson said that it is the first job in his life that has not involved throwing a baseball.