ST. PETERSBURG, Florida—Shintaro Fujinami joined the Orioles on Friday, and he’ll be in the bullpen for the game. Fujinami, who was 5-8 with an 8.57 ERA began the season as a starter for the Oakland Athletics before he moved to the bullpen.
“Surprised was the biggest thing for me,” Fujinami said about Wednesday’s trade through an interpreter.
He moves from Oakland, which has the worst record in baseball to the Orioles, who have the second best.
“A little nervous. A lot more people watching the game,” he said. “In some situations in Oakland, some fans were watching the game, but there’s going be more fans, so a little pressure.”
Fujinami is the second Japanese Oriole. Koji Uehara pitched for the team from 2009-2011, and he finished his career with the Chicago Cubs in 2017 when Brandon Hyde was a coach.
“I got to meet him a little bit ago,” Hyde said. “It was a pleasure. He’s a real classy, professional guy. I had a great conversation with him about his time in Oakland, and also about being here and he’s excited to be here, and we’re excited to have him.”
Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish was also with the Cubs when Hyde was there. Tsuyoshi Wada, who was signed by the Orioles in 2012, but never pitched in the majors for them, was also in Chicago.
“I’m excited to have him. The stuff is really good,” Hyde said. “He was pitching well in Oakland the last 10 or 15 appearances.”
Hyde and the Orioles’ pitching coaches don’t want to put much pressure on Fujinami initially.
“They said we’re going to put me in good spots,” Fujinami said.
“I would love to ease him in, but we’ll see what happens,” Hyde said. “The game of baseball throws you different twists and turns and we’ve used [some guys] quite a bit lately. He’s fresh. If he gets in there tonight, I hope he pitches well.
Fujinami, who’s 29 has had some adjustments in playing major league ball.
“I wasn’t feeling very comfortable with my pitching mechanics at the beginning of the season,” he said. “The balls are a little different. They’re more slick. The biggest thing is the strike zone is different than the Japanese League.”
The top of the strike zone is wider, he feels.
He’s cut down on the types of pitches he throws, and he’s now concentrating on the four-seam fastball and the split finger.
“Changing from starter to reliever, you need to cut down on the pitches,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, I struggled with command…The pitching coach told me those two pitches, the fastball and the split were elite level, so I focused on two pitches.”
For now, he’ll be in the bullpen, but he doesn’t want to forget about starting.
“If I have a chance, I want to get back to the starting role,” he said. “At this point, the big leagues want me as a reliever. I’ll do my best here, but eventually if I can, I want to go back to a starting role.”
Fujinami comes to a new team where he doesn’t know anybody in the middle of the season.
“The teammates are very nice guys and say ‘hi.’ We’ll become better teammates now,” he said.
He doesn’t feel moving to the East Coast is going to be a big deal.
“The food here, I’m comfortable with. I can eat anything,” he said
Note: To make room for Fujinami, the Orioles optioned right-hander Logan Gillaspie to Triple-A Norfolk.