Fujinami, 'nasty' splitter wow at A's camp

February 17th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- The anticipation for Shintaro Fujinami to take the mound has been building since the A’s signed the Japanese right-hander to a one-year contract last month. On the second day of Spring Training, “Fuji” was finally on display.

On Thursday, a large contingent comprised of Oakland’s front-office members, coaches and players gathered on a back field directly behind Hohokam Stadium’s right field -- in addition to a group of around 30 members of the Japanese media situated several feet away from that area -- to watch Fujinami throw his first side session in an A’s uniform.

“He definitely comes as advertised in terms of stuff,” said A’s manager Mark Kotsay. “Today was a big day for him. The nerves were there, which is great. It tells you that he’s where he belongs. He’s been waiting for this moment for a long time.”

Fujinami, 28, drew rave reviews as he threw all six of his offerings -- four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, slider, splitter and curveball -- in a bullpen session of approximately 40 pitches.

Most impressive to catcher Shea Langeliers, who was catching Fujinami for the first time, was the splitter, which seemed to develop into a real putaway pitch last year in Japan.

“The big splitter was nasty,” Langeliers said. “It’s going to take some catching to get used to that one. It’s really good. It dives down.”

A’s pitching coach Scott Emerson took extra note of the fastball, not only because of its electricity -- topping out at around 97 mph -- but also Fujinami’s ability to place it up in the zone with consistency.

“You watch him throw his fastball, it’s got good intent,” Emerson said. “It moves. He can cut it. He can sink it. He’s got a good split at the bottom of the zone. He can throw the four-seam ride fastball. All the intangibles, he has right now. It’s just how we’re going to put him into the game and see what we can do to face Major League hitters.”

Before encountering those big league hitters in Cactus League games later this month, Fujinami will follow a progression. His next bullpen session is scheduled for Sunday, followed by a live batting practice session against A’s hitters next Wednesday.

As for the ramp-up process into the regular season, the A’s will use these next several weeks as a barometer of what type of workload Fujinami might be able to handle based on how quickly he can bounce back from a start. In Japan, he pitched every sixth day, which is one extra day beyond the pace of a traditional five-man rotation. Could Oakland expand to a six-man corps to accommodate Fujinami?

“All things are kind of on the table at this point,” Kotsay said when asked of a potential six-man rotation. “There’s a possibility of it. We’re going to assess all the information we can in terms of [Fujinami’s] recovery process. He’s a big, physical guy. Nothing says he can’t be in a five-man rotation and have success. These conversations are going to be ongoing."

Shintaro Fujinami at A's Spring Training camp on Feb. 16, 2023

“Based on what he’s done in Japan,” added Kotsay, "I think there’s the ability for him to make an amount of starts that would align with what guys in our rotation have done in the past.”

Pitching in a combined 25 games between Japan’s Central and Western Leagues in 2022, Fujinami finished the season at 107 1/3 innings. From 2019-21, his highest number of innings pitched in one season was 98 1/3 in ‘20. If he remains healthy, Fujinami said his goal is to reach the qualified innings mark of 162 in his first season with the A's.

“I’d like to shoot for maybe 140 innings,” Fujinami said through interpreter Issei Yamada. “If I can throw that number of innings, I would be really happy. I’m hoping for that.”