Why Boston signed Junichi Tazawa as an amateur free agent in December 2008 was pretty easy to figure out. Its how they signed him that was sort of unusual. At the time, the Red Sox were getting pretty good results from another right-handed pitcher from Japan. Daisuke Matsuzaka had already helped Boston win a World Series in 2007 and had gone 18-3 in ’08. The two pitchers both played their high school ball in Yokahama, but unlike Dice K, Tazawa decided he would not start his professional career in Japan. Instead, he intended to shop his services to the highest bidding MLB franchise in the United States.
That turned out to be Boston, who gave Tazawa a 3-year deal for $3 million, hoping that he would give them a second roll of the “Dice” to throw at opponents. He became just the third native of Japan to bypass Nippon Professional Baseball and sign directly with an MLB team.
After getting off to a good start in Double A ball the Red Sox brought him up in August of ’09 and put him in their rotation. He did fine until his fourth start against the White Sox, during which he was shelled for 10 hits and 9 runs in four innings. That got him demoted to the bullpen and in his next appearance a week later, those same White Sox jumped on him for five more runs in 3.2 innings. He also injured his pitching arm and was forced to undergo surgery and sit out the entire 2010 season.
So Tazawa proved he was not another Dice K, but over the past three seasons, he has shown his fastball, curve and forkball are good enough to get big leaguers out consistently as a middle reliever and set-up man. In 2012, he was one of the few bright spots on a bad Boston pitching staff, producing a 1.43 ERA in 37 games. He appeared in 71 regular season games during Boston’s 2013 Division-winning regular season and then performed close-to-brillantly in their postseason run to a World Championship.