BALTIMORE -- If the Orioles plan on making a deep run through the postseason, they need to bolster their pitching staff. On Wednesday, they took the first step toward doing that.
Shortly after moving into a tie with Tampa Bay for first place in the American League East, Baltimore made its first move ahead of the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline, acquiring right-hander Shintaro Fujinami from Oakland in exchange for Minor League left-hander Easton Lucas.
Fujinami, 29, is an MLB rookie after spending 10 seasons playing for the Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. He signed with the A’s this past offseason, and he began the year in the club’s starting rotation.
However, Fujinami didn’t fare well early, going 0-4 with a 14.40 ERA over his first four starts. At that point, Oakland opted to move the righty to the bullpen.
Fujinami has continued to improve as he’s gained MLB experience. Since the beginning of June, he has a 3.26 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings over 17 appearances. He’s pitched especially well in July, recording a 2.25 ERA over seven appearances.
The best weapon in Fujinami’s arsenal is a four-seam fastball that is averaging 98 mph and has touched 102.1, per Statcast. But he also relies heavily on his splitter and his cutter, while also periodically working in some breaking stuff.
Fujinami will become the second Japanese-born player in O’s history, joining right-hander Koji Uehara, who began his MLB career by playing three seasons in Baltimore from 2009-11.
The Orioles have needed more high-leverage relievers to bridge the gap between their starters and the All-Star duo of setup man Yennier Cano and closer Félix Bautista. The team has struggled a bit to find other options on nights those two right-handers have been unavailable.
The 6-foot-6 Fujinami should slot in well alongside other key middle relievers such as left-hander Danny Coulombe and righty Mike Baumann. But Baltimore may not be done making moves, as it could still use another solid arm or two to further strengthen its push for its first postseason berth since 2016.
To make room for Fujinami on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated infielder/outfielder Josh Lester for assignment. The 29-year-old had been playing for Triple-A Norfolk after a stint with Baltimore from June 3-24.
Lucas, a 14th-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, was acquired by the O’s from the Marlins in exchange for infielder Jonathan Villar in December 2019. The 26-year-old southpaw had a 2.73 ERA in 20 relief appearances between Triple-A Norfolk and Double-A Bowie this season.
This was the second trade completed between the O’s and the A’s this year, after Baltimore acquired left-hander Cole Irvin in exchange for shortstop prospect Darell Hernaiz in January.