Arihara gives Rangers innings, rotation depth

December 26th, 2020

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers added potential durability and stability to their rotation by signing Japanese right-hander Kohei Arihara to a two-year contract on Saturday.

The Rangers see him fitting into the middle of a young rotation with a number of starters who are still gaining experience and building up their endurance and stability.

Manager Chris Woodward said the addition of Arihara to a rotation that already includes Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles could help make up for the loss of Lance Lynn, who was traded to the White Sox.

“We are expecting him to throw innings and get deeper into some games,” Woodward said. “Stabilize our rotation, so it allows us to be creative with the rest of our pitching staff.”

Arihara agreed to a two-year deal worth $6.2 million plus a $1.24 million posting fee. He will receive $2.6 million in 2021 and $3.6 million in ’22, with another $50,000 possible in incentives.

“Kohei is a young durable starting pitcher with a successful track record,” president of baseball operations Jon Daniels said. “He throws seven pitches for strikes. Our staff believes there is additional opportunities for him to continue to improve. What stood out to us in this process was his curiosity and his desire to continue to develop as a pitcher.”

Arihara was posted 30 days ago by the Ham Fighters, and Saturday was the deadline to make a decision. The Rangers and the Ham Fighters have a strong working relationship, but ultimately, it was up to Arihara where he wanted to pitch.

The Rangers had a long conversation with Arihara through a Zoom call earlier this month, and the two sides finally reached an agreement on Tuesday. Arihara flew to Texas and passed his physical on Thursday.

“I am extremely grateful for the Rangers who gave me an opportunity to play in Major League Baseball,” Arihara said in a statement. “I will continue to work hard in order for me to grow and succeed in this city. To lead into this, I will make sure to have a good offseason so that I can head into Spring Training in top condition. I am truly excited to be able to pitch in front of the Rangers fans at Globe Life Field, and I hope that you will all support me in my journey.”

Arihara, 28, spent the past six seasons with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, and he went 8-9 with a 3.46 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP in 20 games and 132 2/3 innings in 2020. He averaged 7.2 strikeouts, 2.0 walks and 8.5 hits per nine innings.

The number of innings is significant since it is far more than what Major League pitchers were able to throw over a 60-game schedule this year. Lynn led all Major Leaguers with 84 innings pitched in 2020, Gibson threw 67 1/3 frames and Lyles finished with 57 2/3. No other Rangers pitcher had more than 36.

“Certainly the durabilty component is a very appealing aspect of the signing,” general manager Chris Young said. “This is a pitcher who is going to come in and give us valuable quality innings. Any starting rotation needs that, we are looking forward to that and that’s our expectations in signing him.” 

Arihara’s best season was in 2019, when he made 24 starts and went 15-8 with a 2.46 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP while averaging 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He was the Pacific League’s Rookie of the Year in 2015.

“He is a guy who can throw a lot of different pitches for strikes,” said Joe Furukawa, the Rangers' chief scout in the Far East. “He doesn’t have a set pattern. He has a very good feel to manipulate each of his different pitches. He always seems to be one step ahead of the hitters. He pitches to contact and gets ground balls. He gets strikeouts when he needs [to]. He is a starter who can throw a lot of innings. He’s durable. He’s got the full package.”

Arihara averages in the low 90s with his sinker, and he also throws a splitter and a slider. He is not considered as overpowering as other Japanese pitchers who have made the jump to the United States. His strengths are his command, mix of pitches and getting the ground ball. But Arihara can get the strikeout when needed.

Arihara will be the eighth pitcher from Japan to play for the Rangers and the first since Yu Darvish in 2017. The other six are Akinori Otsuka, Koji Uehara, Yoshinori Tateyama, Hideki Irabu, Kazuo Fukumori and Kyuji Fujikawa. Darvish was the only one of those seven who was used as a starter by the Rangers.

“He is a different pitcher than Darvish,” Daniels said. “That’s a lofty comparison. He is a different pitcher. Darvish had more power swing and miss to his approach. The book hasn’t been written on Kohei, there is more in there and I’m excited to have our staff work with him and see where his upside is. We are not going to count on him being [in the] front end of the rotation, but we are not going to put any limits on him.”

To make room for Arihara, the Rangers designated right-handed reliever Art Warren for assignment. Warren was claimed off waivers on Oct. 21 from the Mariners.