Fujinami beats back trouble, K's seven vs. Rockies

March 14th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- An important step in Shintaro Fujinami’s build-up toward his first MLB season was almost derailed due to a disastrous first inning in an 8-7 win over the Rockies on Monday.

Making his third Cactus League start, Fujinami worked a laborious opening frame. Sitting at 28 pitches with only one out after issuing a four-pitch walk to Zac Veen, the A’s had no choice but to get the bullpen going, putting Fujinami’s goal of five innings in serious jeopardy.

Ending the first at 35 pitches, Fujinami returned to the dugout and regrouped. In the next two innings, the right-hander found his command, getting through the second and third on 30 pitches, 21 of which were strikes.

Though he came up short of the five-inning mark, Fujinami did get to go back out to start the fourth. By the end of his outing, he had salvaged what was shaping up to be a short outing early on, going three-plus innings and allowing four runs on four hits with three walks and seven strikeouts.

“I thought it was positive,” manager Mark Kotsay said of Fujinami’s outing. “First inning, he just didn’t really have command, and it showed. The next two, he had really good command in the zone with his split and slider. … Overall, it was a good outing.”

What changed for Fujinami after that first inning? A little self-diagnosis.

With sudden loss of command a theme that intermittently crept up during his 10 seasons pitching in Japan, Fujinami has discovered certain ways to get himself back on track. In this case, he identified a mechanical flaw in his delivery: his left shoulder was moving toward the third-base side. He corrected it by focusing on keeping the shoulder more lined up with the plate.

“I found the cause of the struggle and I was able to fix it for the second inning,” Fujinami said through interpreter Issei Kamada. “I got my feel back.”

The stuff remained as electric as it has been all spring. His fastball maxed out at 99 mph. Of his 70 pitches, his slider -- in its various iterations, one a mix between a cutter and slider and the other more of a sweeper -- was his most-thrown pitch (29), and served as the putaway pitch on five of his seven punchouts.

With two more Cactus League outings likely remaining, Fujinami has a clear idea of what he wants to work on in order to be where he feels he needs to be for the start of the regular season.

“I would like to improve my four-seamers, especially up in the zone,”  Fujinami said. “The other offspeed pitches will be more effective, too. For the rest of spring, I want to improve my four-seam fastball command.”

Roster cuts explained
Jordan Diaz and stood out among Sunday’s Spring Training roster cuts. Diaz, Oakland’s No. 7 prospect, entered camp in the mix for an infield spot, while Bleday, who was acquired in a trade from the Marlins last month, was vying for the starting center field job.

In the case of Diaz, though he impressed in his stint with Oakland to finish the 2022 season, his current absence as he represents his home country of Colombia in the World Baseball Classic limited the number of looks he got in front of the big league staff. Second base and third base -- his two main positions -- also appear to have strong incumbents, with veteran newcomers and now with the club.

“For Jordan, his role with his group, he’s a young 22-year-old player who has a future as an everyday guy,” Kotsay said. “Bringing in two guys that play similar positions, some of that factors into our decision to option Jordan right now. 

“That’s not to say he can’t come back. We still have almost two weeks left before we start the season. A lot of things can happen in those two weeks that change that dynamic.”

Though Bleday was off to a solid start in camp, going 8-for-28 with a homer and double in 11 games, a detriment to his roster case was the fact that he still has Minor League options left, while , another center field candidate, is out of options.

“We do have outfield depth right now,” Kotsay said. “JJ, to me, is an everyday guy. He’s got huge upside. … The decision became between [Esteury] Ruiz and Bleday. We told JJ as well that things can change in the next 13 days. Continue to perform. I expect JJ to be a big part of [our] future.”