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Junichi Tazawa (田澤 純一)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 180 lb.
Junichi Tazawa made history in 2008 when he opted to bypass the Nippon Pro Baseball draft and bargain with MLB teams to start his pro career overseas. Only two prior high-quality Japanese players had signed with US teams before the NPB draft and each had other issues - Mac Suzuki was a high school drop-out who developed his career in the US and Kazuhito Tadano was plagued by a gay porn video which led to most NPB teams turning their backs on him.
Tazawa pitched for Japan in the 2007 Baseball World Cup. He was roughed up for 8 hits and 3 runs in 5 innings in a loss to the host Taiwan national team, which finished well behind Japan in the standings. In the semifinals, he tossed two perfect innings of relief in a 5-3 loss to the Cuban national team. Japan finished with a Bronze Medal despite having the lone all-amateur team (outside of Cuba, where the top players do not turn pro). Tazawa struck out 9 in 8 innings in the World Cup overall and was 0-1 with a 3.38 ERA.
In 2008, Tazawa led his Nippon Oil team to their first Intercity industrial league national title in 13 years, winning four games in the tournament (saving one, losing none and having a 1.27 ERA) and being named MVP. After this, he wrote to all 12 Nippon Pro Baseball teams, requesting that they not draft him, as he wanted to try his chances in the USA. Tazawa had been projected as a first-round pick. No team selected him in the draft, honoring his wishes.
In his final amateur tournament, Tazawa did not allow an earned run in 20 2/3 IP in the national corporate baseball championships. After two straight shutouts, he allowed the losing run (unearned) in the semifinals as Nippon Oil was eliminated. Tazawa went 13-1 with 5 saves and a 0.80 ERA for Nippon Oil in 2008, striking out 114 and walking 15 in 113 innings.
Tazawa signed by Jon Deeble and Craig Shipley for the Boston Red Sox on December 4, inking a 3-year, $3.3 million deal. He expressed interest in learning from Daisuke Matsuzaka while in the Red Sox chain. Tazawa started 2009 in AA with the Portland Sea Dogs. He struck out 7 in five innings in his professional debut, allowing four hits and one run in a loss to the Connecticut Defenders, losing a duel to Mike Musgrave. He went 9-5 with a 2.57 ERA for Portland then was promoted to the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox. He had a 2.38 ERA in two starts for Pawtucket, but lost both of his decisions in the International League.
He was brought up to the big club on August 7, 2009 after veteran John Smoltz was released. In an unexpected turn of events, he was used that very night as the Red Sox were locked in an extra-inning scoreless duel with the New York Yankees. He pitched a scoreless 14th inning, but in the 15th, he gave up a single and a two-out home run by Alex Rodriguez to be saddled with the loss. He made his starting debut at home on August 11 against the Detroit Tigers. In a wild game marked by an early bench-clearing brawl and two ejections, he gave up a single earned run in 5 innings to earn his first major league victory. Overall, he went 2-3 with a 7.46 ERA in that first season, but made his last appearance on September 4th, felled by an arm injury.
Tazawa did not pitch at all in 2010 and began a comeback in 2011. He started the year with the Class A Salem Red Sox, and then moved up to AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket as the season progressed. His ERA improved at each level, as he regained his command and his strength: it was 6.05 in Single A, 4.70 in AA and 2.51 in 8 relief appearances in AAA. Convinced he was back to where he had been two years earlier, the Sox called him up to the big club, and he made a successful return to the major leagues on September 13th, giving up a run in the 9th inning of an 18-6 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. Overall he pitched 3 games, giving up 2 runs in 3 innings. He started 2012 back in Pawtucket and did not give a run over his first seven innings, while striking out 9. On April 18th, he was called up to Boston to replace Mark Melancon, who had been thoroughly shelled in his first few outings of the year. He continued to pitch well over his first few appearances, giving up no runs over his first 6 innings and recording his first career save in a three-inning outing against the Chicago White Sox on April 26th. Overall, he went 1-1, 1.43 in in 37 games that year.
Tazawa really came into his own in 2013, when he was a key figure in a Red Sox bullpen that made a major contribution to the team going from worst to first and winning its third World Series title in ten seasons. He pitched 71 times that year, logging 68 1/3 innings, with a record of 5-4 and a 3.16 ERA. He made 13 appearances in the postseason, with 1 win and a 1.23 ERA. He was unscored upon in 5 appearances as the Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic. He followed that with another very solid year in 2014 when he again made 71 appearances, going 4-3, 2.86. However, he had a tougher time of it in 2015, as his record fell to 2-7 and his ERA rose to 4.14 while Boston finished last. Going into the season, he had not recorded a save since 2012, but he was credited with 3 that year. In 2016, the Sox turned things around, finishing first in the AL East and returning to the postseason for the first time since their last World Series title, but Tazawa posted another high ERA, at 4.17 in 53 games and 49 2/3 innings. He did not pitch in the postseason. After becoming a free agent, he signed a two-year free agent contract with the Miami Marlins on December 16th, netting $12 million.
- Japanese Wikipedia entry
- Associated Press story on Tazawa's signing with the Red Sox