Rangers sign Japanese pitcher Arihara

By Jeff Wilson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS

The major remaining item on the Texas Rangers’ offseason to-do list is filling the starting rotation.

That work will continue in the coming weeks, but the Rangers made their workload lighter Saturday by signing Japanese right-hander Kohei Arihara to a two-year deal worth $6.2 million.

He also received some MLB baseballs to begin practicing with as he prepares for the transition.

Arihara was posted late last month by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, who have a working relationship with the Rangers. Yu Darvish also pitched for Hokkaido before the Rangers signed him in 2012.

Arihara is no Darvish, though he can throw seven pitches for strikes. Arihara is 28 and has proven to be durable while going 60-50 with a 3.74 ERA in six seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball.

He doesn’t have the same level of stuff as Darvish or others from Japan who have pitched in the major leagues. The Rangers, though, need innings, and they came away impressed by Arihara’s buy-in to the coaching staff and a desire to be better.

“He should be prepared to stabilize the rotation and help provide valuable innings,” general manager Chris Young said. “We’re hopeful it will be 150-plus. We don’t really know yet, but someone who can fill innings is a high priority for us.

“He’s 28 years old and still feels like he wants to learn about what makes him successful and how to become a better pitcher. That type of curiosity is part of being a competitor. It’s never being satisfied or complacent. It certainly fits what we’re looking for in our players.”

Arihara’s fastball sits 89-93 mph, and his three best pitchers are his sinker, slider and split-fingered fastball. He will also throw a four-seam fastball, curveball, changeup and cutter.

He throws them all for strikes, which allows him to keep hitters off-balance. While he didn’t have the same robust strikeout rates as Darvish and others who have come from Japan, the Rangers believe he will strikeout more hitters because of the difference in the style of play in Japan and the majors.

“We think some of his off-speed pitches have more potential to generate swing-and-miss here,” said Jon Daniels, president of baseball operations. “For a guy who’s around the staff a lot, our staff has identified a few things that they would like to emphasize a little more.”

Arihara will join fellow righties Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles, the lone holdovers from 2020, in the rotation. Two rookie righties, Dane Dunning and Kyle Cody, also figure to get changes in 2021, but are likely to be held to innings limits in their first full seasons back from Tommy John surgery.

The Rangers have no shortage of left-handers who are still looking to establish themselves as big-league starting pitchers.

But Daniels again said the Rangers are still in the market for starters. They have discussed bringing back Corey Kluber, though other clubs are talking to him, too.

There’s a large cast of retreads, reclamation projects and uninspiring innings eaters, and that could be the tier from which the Rangers will be filling their rotation.

Nippon Ham starter Kohei Arihara pitches the ball during the Japanese professional baseball match between Seibu and Nippon Ham at the Metlife Dome in Tokorozawa, Saitama prefecture on June 19, 2020. Texas Rangers signed Arihara to a two-year deal worth $6.2 million.