Angels Sign Pitcher From Japanese League

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Unable to acquire free-agent pitchers Steve Avery or Doug Drabek to bolster their rotation, the Angels on Thursday turned for help to Shigetoshi Hasegawa from Japan.

And get this, the plan calls for Hasegawa to pitch middle relief next season rather than fill a spot in the rotation.

"Best-case scenario for us would be that he pitches in the middle [relief] for a year, then ends up in our rotation," Angel General Manager Bill Bavasi said of Hasegawa, who agreed to a one-year contract with an option on 1998.

"Hopefully, this guy pitches well and establishes himself and comes in next year and starts."

So who is Hasegawa?

First and foremost, he's not considered a power pitcher like the Dodgers' Hideo Nomo. He does have an "average major league fastball," according to Bavasi.

He's also 28.

"I wouldn't limit him by calling him a finesse guy," Bavasi said. "He's got real good command. He's a solid pitcher. He's not a strikeout guy. He's a solid command guy.

"He has a good fastball, slider and split-finger pitch to go with excellent control.

"We probably got the best guy over there."

Over there is the Pacific League in Japan, where Hasegawa has pitched for the Orix Blue Wave since 1991.

Hasegawa was 4-6 with two complete games, one save and a 5.34 earned-run average in 18 appearances last season, well off his statistics from past seasons. His career record with the Blue Wave was 57-45 with 43 complete games, four saves and a 3.25 ERA in 142 games.

He is the first Japanese-born player to make the Angels' 40-man roster. The Angels plan to hire a translator to help Hasegawa, who does not speak English, communicate with the coaching staff and his new teammates.

Hasegawa also considered offers from the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, according to Ed Kleven, his Boston-based agent. But the A's and Mariners dropped out of contention this week.

"I know we were in competition with other clubs to get him," Bavasi said. "There were quite a few other clubs interested in him, but he was pretty specific in the geographic area he wanted to play."

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