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Meet the new guy: Red Sox trade acquisition Naoyuki Uwasawa

Who is he and where does he come from?

His name is Naoyuki Uwasawa and he signed a minor league contract with the Tampa Bay Rays this past offseason. After an eventful spring training, he triggered an opt-out clause in his contract, prompting the Rays to trade him to the Red Sox for cash.

Uwasawa is from Matsudo, a city in the greater Tokyo area. Matsudo is also home to Japan’s second astronaut, Naoko Yamazaki. Yamazaki spent 15 days on the shuttle Discovery in 2010, so if Uwasawa is having trouble adjusting to increased travel in MLB, he should call it quits.

What position does he play?

Throughout his career, Uwasawa was a starting pitcher. Then, last weekend in Minnesota, he did something he hadn’t done since he was a kid: pitched on back-to-back days out of the bullpen. Consider him a swingman for now.

Is he good ?

Uwasawa represents something rare in MLB: he is a Japanese player who was not a superstar in NPB, but rather a very good player. During his 9-year career with the Nippon Ham Fighters (the former ball club of Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani), he made the All-Star team three times and posted a career ERA of 3.19. That’s a strong number! But for context, 17 different starters posted ERAs below 3 in Japan last season, a feat only 5 starters in all of MLB have matched. His good but less than stellar numbers aren’t surprising when you find out his fastball sits at around 90 MPH.

But there are many things to love about Uwasawa. For starters, he has a deep six-pitch arsenal that, like many Japanese pitchers, includes a sturdy splitter. And more importantly, he absolutely hammers the strike zone with every one of them; he threw strikes at a 66% rate last season, which would have put him in the top 20 in MLB. And even this sleepwalking fastball has some intriguing features:

Induced vertical break essentially measures the vertical travel of a fastball due to the spin a pitcher gives it. It goes without saying that the more a fastball moves, the harder it is to hit, and IVB is a big reason Kutter Crawford’s fastball plays so well.

Put it all together and most scouts have identified Uwasawa as a guy capable of staying at the back of an MLB rotation, which isn’t bad considering the Sox haven’t given up anything of significance to see her.

Show me a cool moment.

Here’s something cool. Despite the Red Sox being the only MLB team Uwasawa officially played for, he faced and struck out Rafael Devers:

Cool too? Complete shutouts:

What is he doing in his photo up there?

Call a press conference to introduce his new haircut, something baseball players should start doing.

What is his role within the 2024 Red Sox?

He was brought in to make it a depth play, and that’s exactly how it’s being used right now. But obviously Craig Breslow and Andrew Bailey like his work, and if he continues to get people out, he could become an important part of the bullpen.