Hideki Okajima Faded Into Oblivion As Red Sox Career Progressed

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14: Hideki Okajima #37 of the Boston Red Sox looks on before playing the New York Yankees on May 14, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Hideki Okajima emerged as one of the best relievers in the game during his rookie season with the Boston Red Sox in 2007, but ever since, the Japanese reliever progressively declined, ultimately leading to his removal from the 40-man roster.

Oh, where did you go, Hideki Okajima?

The 35-year-old Japanese reliever had a roller coaster career with the Boston Red Sox, going from All-Star set up man and World Series winner to washed up minor leaguer in five short years.

Okajima's tenure with the Red Sox came to an unofficial end on Thursday night after Boston designated him for assignment, meaning they have 10 days to either place him on waiver, trade him or release him.

When Okajima joined the team as a rookie in 2007, not much was expected out of him. In fact, his Red Sox career got off to a rocky start, giving up a home run to John Buck on his very first major league pitch.

However, that was the only run Okajima would give up until the New York Yankees scored a run on a fielders choice on May 22. Okajima, who stepped into the role of set up reliever following injuries to Mike Timlin and Joel Pineiro, was ultimately selected to the All-Star Game and finished the season with a record of 3-2, a career-best 2.22 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 66 games (69 innings pitched).

In 2008, Okajima was equally effective, going 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 62 innings spread through 64 games. At the end of the season, the Red Sox signed Okajima to a well-deserved contract extension.

Yet that's when Okajima's productivity started to go by the wayside. He didn't have a bad season in 2009 -- winning a career-best six games while posting a 3.39 ERA and striking out 53 batters in 61 innings.

In 2010, Okajima had his worst season to date, going 4-4 with a 4.50 ERA and a career-low 33 strikeouts in 46 innings (56 games). Okajima made the decision to re-sign with the Red Sox after the season, but started the year in AAA-Pawtucket after an ineffective spring.

This season, Okajima pitched in a mere seven games, going 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA and six strikeouts in eight and a third innings. On Thursday, Okajima was DFA'd to make room for Franklin Morales, who the Red Sox acquired via trade.

While Okajima struggled in his final two seasons with the Red Sox, his tenure with the team on the whole was a success. After all, he did help Boston win a World Series title in 2007. 

Okajima was asked if he regretted his decision to re-sign with the Red Sox this season. His response? 

"Having re-signed with Boston during the offseason, it is disappointing that this is happening but signing here was not a mistake," said Okajima. "I am very grateful to the opportunity the Red Sox have given me over five years." (via WEEI)

It wasn't always pretty, but looking back, I'd say that his career in Boston was pretty okie-dokey.

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