Hirano targeting Diamondbacks' closer role
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Yoshihisa Hirano is not one for formalities.
“Please call me Yoshi,” the new Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher said Monday to open his introductory news conference.
The 33-year-old right-hander agreed in December to a $6 million, two-year contract with the Diamondbacks after 12 seasons with Orix of Japan’s Pacific League.
With his wife and two young children joining him, Hirano said he hopes the entire family will learn English.
“The D-backs were the first team that made me an offer,” Hirano said through an interpreter. “When me and my family came over to visit Arizona in December, general manager Mike Hazen and field manager Torey Lovullo were there, greeted me and my family very warmly and made my family feel like home now already, and that was the reason I chose the Diamondbacks.”
Arizona won 93 games and a National League wild-card berth last season, then was swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the division series. The Diamondbacks have tried to improve their bullpen in the offseason, and Hirano is in the competition to replace departed closer Fernando Rodney. Brad Boxberger also is a possibility, and some would like to see the role go to Archie Bradley, who was 3-3 with a 1.73 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 250 1/3 innings last season, his first full year in the bullpen.
Hirano pitched out of the bullpen the past eight seasons, with a league-leading 41 saves in 2014. Since 2010, he appeared in 476 games, going 30-33 with 156 saves and a 2.30 ERA with 564 strikeouts, an average of 9.83 strikeouts per nine innings. Last year, he appeared in 58 games, going 3-7 with 29 saves, a 2.67 ERA and 47 strikeouts.
“I’ve been a closer in Japan, but hopefully that will be my goal,” he said, “but I’m willing to pitch in any situation that Torey tells me to.”
Hirano can earn $500,000 in bonuses for games and $500,000 for games finished: $50,000 for 15 in each category and each additional five through 60. He would get $250,000 if traded.
He is the second major leaguer of Japanese descent to sign with Arizona after Takashi Saito in 2012. Hirano said he got the urge to pitch in the United States while playing in last year’s World Baseball Classic.
He was 1-0 in the WBC with a 3.38 ERA in 5 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts.
“My experience in the WBC last year was a huge part,” he said. “Being on the mound actually using the major league baseballs that we might be using. I felt comfortable. That was a huge part. [I] also heard that a lot of major league teams evaluated [me] highly, and that was another motivating factor.
“I feel that the control, the command that the Japanese pitchers have is one of the main reasons that many of them have succeeded in the past,” he added. “And also the secondary, whether the split or the slider, has helped them. I haven’t thrown a pitch yet in the States, but I’m hoping I can be a part of those guys.”