Last week was a good week for high-level Boston Red Sox prospects. Ryan Kalish returned to action, Felix Doubront came off the disabled list and right hander Junichi Tazawa made his first appearance in a PawSox uniform since 2009, after enduring “Tommy John” surgery.
Tazawa has made a couple of appearances in relief, and has gotten off to off to a good start. In 4 and a third innings, the 25 year old has scattered 8 hits, allowing no runs and striking out 8 hitters. I spoke to him, through his interpreter, Kaz Saito. Tazawa is happy with his progress but knows he has a way to go. “My health is good. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s getting better.” Tazawa has worked hard after the procedure of April 2010. “After surgery, my range of motion in my elbow wasn’t good, but it has progressed and is getting better.” Tazawa had no trouble when asked about the toughest part of his layoff. “I doubted that I would be able to get back on the mound. I didn’t think my arm would be the same. I trust my trainer, now it is ok.”
I often think about how tough it must be for foreign players, even with translators, to adapt to the American culture and way of life. On top of that, dealing with a severe injury. “It is not easy, but I like it. When I was hurt, I was able to go back to Japan a couple of times, for about a month and a half at a time.”
In an organization like the Red Sox that has veteran Japanese players like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, Tazawa has been able to get pointers from men he admired as a boy, growing up in Yokohama. “When I was young, I looked up to Daisuke and Okajima in Japan. I am happy to play with them. They have given me advice since I have gotten here.”
While Tazawa was recovering from his surgery, he took the opportunity to increase his size and strength through the rigorous workouts the Red Sox set up for him. Tazawa is noticably bigger. “Yes, I took advantage of my personal trainer and the conditioning program they set up for me. I feel bigger and stronger.”
As Tazawa looks beyond the 2011 season, he seems encouraged by his prospects. “Yes, I am excited. The conditioning and training has helped me and I will continue to do what is necessary. Step by step, I will analyze what I have done this year and figure a way to continue my progress.”