Where in the World is Hiro Nakajima?
By Sean Davis
We all remember December 18, 2012. Maybe not off the top of our heads, but we all recall what took place that day. That was the day the Athletics introduced their brand new imported shortstop. “Hi Oakland, my name is Hiroyuki Nakajima, but you can call me Hiro. I am honored to be here today. Thank you very much, Mr. Beane.” Those were the first words from Hiro Nakajima as he read an assuredly memorized statement in English to the Bay Area media. Memorably he went on to proclaim Billy Beane to be “sexy and cool” and that he looked forward to “doing the Bernie dance with Oakland.”
This is the only time Hiro Nakajima has been spotted in an Athletics uniform, Opening Night 2013. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
The A’s universe immediately fell in love with the guy. He was a big hit at the FanFest event in January, and his beaming smile radiated throughout Spring Training in February and March. There was just one problem, he never hit during Cactus League play. Be it that his timing was off, or the fact that he was facing a number of pitchers he had never seen before, or if he was having trouble adjusting to life in the United States, we don’t know what caused his struggles.
He was injured at the tail end of Spring Training, what turned out to be a fairly severe hamstring strain. Nakajima would be placed on the 15 day DL and the Athletics were spared having to option him to Triple A Sacramento at the end of the spring. His hamstring appears to be more or less healed, and he has now appeared in 13 games for the River Cats. Today the Athletics announced that they were activating him from the DL, and optioning him to the River Cats. All this means is now he is no longer on a rehab assignment, he’s a minor leaguer.
In the 13 games he’s played, he’s posted a .265/.316/.347 line in 57 plate appearances. It’s not a line that will pop out at you, but it’s certainly an improvement over his spring numbers when he couldn’t buy a hit. But with the emergence of Jed Lowrie at shortstop, there is no longer a sense of urgency to get Nakajima to Oakland.
With Lowrie entrenched at short, and Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales occupying somewhat of a platoon at second base, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of room for Hiro. But the fact of the matter is the A’s made a two year commitment to Nakajima and they still don’t know exactly what they have. The chances that he can provide more offense than either Sogard or Rosales are fairly high. They both have had their moments, but neither of them are truly worthy of being everyday players. Nakajima may still be, we simply don’t know. He’s been working out at second base, at third base, maybe he’s even been secretly catching bullpen sessions for all we know. Either way, he is working diligently to make himself as useful as he can to the Oakland Athletics. He may not be in Oakland any time soon, but I believe the chances are high that at some point he will play an important role with the Athletics.