By Melissa Lockard, Keith Law and Brittany Ghiroli
The surging Baltimore Orioles made a trade to shore up their bullpen Thursday, acquiring right-hander Shintaro Fujinami from the Oakland A’s for minor-league left-hander Easton Lucas. Fujinami is in his first season pitching in the U.S. after 10 seasons pitching professionally in Japan.
On the surface, a team vying for an American League East title acquiring a reliever with an 8.57 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP in 49 1/3 innings doesn’t make a lot of sense. But digging a little deeper into the numbers shows why the Orioles would have targeted him for a middle relief role. He began the season in the A’s rotation, but really struggled. He moved to the bullpen in late April and, over the last 10 weeks, has been pitching much better. Over his last 15 outings, he’s posted a 2.70 ERA with 18 strikeouts and four walks in 16 2/3 innings. July has been his best month. In seven outings, he’s allowed just two runs over eight innings with 10 strikeouts and no walks. For the season, Fujinami has 51 strikeouts and 30 walks.
The 6-foot-6 Fujinami has a big arsenal of pitches, highlighted by a four-seam fastball that can touch 102. The splitter is his best secondary pitch and it’s a pitch he’s thrown more consistently for strikes over the past two months. He also has a cutter, a slider, a sinker and a curveball.
The Athletic’s instant analysis:
Easton Lucas scouting report
Lucas is a reliever, 93-96 with an above-average slider and a good-enough changeup that he might be able to become a full-inning guy rather than just a lefty specialist-type. He has had a modest platoon split this year, giving up some power to right-handers but throwing strikes and limiting walks to hitters on both sides. Given how Fujinami has pitched this year, this seems like an adequate return. — Law
What this means for the Orioles
Baltimore, which moved into a first-place tie with the Rays in the AL East on Wednesday, has two clear needs: middle relief and another starter. The Orioles filled the former with the addition of Fujinami, who will be part of their bullpen as an option prior to All-Star late-inning closer Félix Bautista and setup man Yennier Cano. While Fujinami struggled mightily to start the season, skewing his numbers, he has a 2.25 ERA in seven July appearances and has seemingly found his groove in relief. With the O’s he will be more of a fifth- or sixth-inning guy. Baltimore, with a loaded farm system, will presumably now turn its attention to the starting pitching market ahead of the trade deadline. — Ghiroli
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What about for the A’s?
Fujinami had been one of the A’s most consistent relievers over the past six weeks, but he’s a pending free agent and with the team headed for a 100-loss season, it makes sense to try to trade him for value now. Lucas fills a need for the A’s as an upper-level relief prospect with two potential major-league average or better pitches and — most importantly — the ability to throw strikes. As a system, A’s relievers have struggled to throw strikes from A-ball up. That Lucas is a lefty in a system without many left-handed pitching prospects is also a bonus.
In a separate move, the A’s claimed right-hander Tayler Scott off waivers from the Red Sox on Tuesday. Scott will join the A’s bullpen immediately, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lucas in the coming weeks. — Lockard
(Photo: Bob DeChiara / USA Today)