When newly-acquired Japanese righthander Hirokazu Sawamura weighed the idea of joining the Red Sox, it was former Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara who sold him on joining the organization.
“He told me a lot of good stuff about the Red Sox,” Sawamura said through his interpreter on Wednesday evening. “He shared with me all of his experiences.”
Sawamura remembered Uehara’s walkout music, “Sandstorm” by Darude, leaving a mark on him when he watched the Red Sox and Uehara win the World Series in 2013. So much so that he started using it as his walkout song in Japan.
“I think Koji Uehara had a lot of influence,” Sawamura added, “and he kind of helped me get here.”
Here, much like in 2013, is with a Red Sox team that isn’t expected to make a run at the postseason. Sawamura, much like Uehara, in the shadows of doubt, will look to make an impact.
Sawamura, 32, joins the Red Sox after 10 seasons in the Japanese pro leagues. He struggled early on last season with the Yomiuri Giants, compiling a 6.08 ERA in 13⅓ innings, but when he was traded (following time in the minors) to the Chiba Lotte Marines, he registered a 1.71 ERA in 21 innings of work. Some of that success is due to a different relocation — Sawamura moved from the third-base side of the rubber to the first-base side. It allowed his devastating splitter to play a bit more around the plate, plus helped with his command.
“When I was using the third-base side of the rubber, I thought I had the feeling that the ball was kind of slipping out of my hand,” Sawamura said. “I was kind of like hanging it toward the righthanded batter. I wanted to dominate the batters, and with strikes. I wanted to get ahead of the count with my fastball, so I changed.”
Sawumura is willing to fill any role the Sox need out of the bullpen. He has yet to speak about what that role might be with manager Alex Cora and the rest of the staff. He’s had experience in many, including some as a closer. Sawamura has 75 career saves.
Sawamura hasn’t touched down in Fort Myers. He is in the midst of applying for a visa, and will then have to quarantine in Florida. Once that gets sorted out, he will join the club, something that brings him a great deal of excitement despite it being a new experience.
“When I’m Boston, I will just go with doing it the Boston way,” Sawamura said. “I think I’m good at adapting to new environments quickly, putting myself into the new environment, new culture, and I’m really eager to try new things.”
Springs, Mazza flipped for promising Tampa duo
The Red Sox announced they traded pitchers Jeffrey Springs and Chris Mazza — both recently designated for assignment to open spots on the 40-man roster — to Tampa Bay in exchange for minor league catcher Ronaldo Hernández and another prospect.
Hernández, 23, was recently ranked the No. 13 prospect in the Rays system. He posted impressive offensive numbers from 2016-18, including a .284/.339/.494 line with 21 homers in 109 games as a 21-year-old at Single A Bowling Green in 2018, but saw his numbers dip to .265/.299/.397 with 9 homers in 103 games with High A Port Charlotte in 2019.
The Sox first scouted Hernández at instructional league this past fall and believe he has real power potential. He’s described as a work in progress behind the plate, but he’s athletic and has a solid work ethic.
The Sox also acquired middle infielder Nick Sogard, a 2019 12th-rounder, in the deal. Sogard hit .290/.405/.313 in his pro debut in the New York-Penn League in 2019.
Sogard doesn’t have much pop in his bat. In three seasons at Loyola Marymount, Sogard he hit just two homers — both in his sophomore season. In 262 minor league plate appearances, Sogard has yet to homer, and has just five extra-base hits. But what Sogard has shown is elite bat-to-ball skills and patience at the plate, striking out just 16 percent of the time during the 2019 season while walking at a 14.9 percent clip.
“Nick Sogard is a throwback-type player with bloodlines and baseball savvy,” an American League evaluator said, noting Nick is the nephew of longtime Dodger Steve Sax and cousin of 10-year pro Eric Sogard. “Pesky and versatile infielder. He’s capable of playing all three infield positions. Controls the zone offensively with minimal sting. Instinctive and occasional theft on the bases. He’s a depth piece with a knack for overachieving.”
Springs, a 28-year-old lefthanded reliever, had a 7.08 ERA in 20⅓ innings with the Sox last year, but struck out 28 batters and walked seven. He was acquired prior to the 2020 season from the Rangers in exchange for Sam Travis.
Mazza, 31, went 1-2 with a 4.80 ERA in nine games (six starts), striking out 29 and walking 15 in 30 innings. He’d been claimed off waivers from the Mets following the 2019 season.
Ron Roenicke joins Dodgers
Ron Roenicke isn’t ready to hang it up. After managing the Red Sox during last year’s disappointing, COVID-shortened season, he was not retained as manager, but has found a new job.
Roenicke told the Globe on Wednesday that he has joined the Dodgers as a special assistant to the general manager, a role that includes working with players on the field during spring training.
Speaking from Glendale, Ariz., where the Dodgers report Thursday, Roenicke said he spoke with the Sox about returning in some capacity after the team rehired Cora as manager. But as those discussions went on, the Dodgers reached out to him, and it was too good for the 64-year-old California native to pass up.
“We talked; [Cora] knew I didn’t want to come back as a bench coach,” said Roenicke. “I didn’t want to be gone seven, eight months again. He asked if I was interested in coming back and helping out, and I was.
“Chaim [Bloom] and I talked too. We never got down to specifics, and then the thing with the Dodgers came up, Dave Roberts called, and it was a great fit for me.”
Roenicke was originally drafted by the Dodgers out of UCLA in 1977, spending the first seven years of his career with the club. He would later return as a coach with the major league team in 1992 and 1993, and was a minor league manager for them from 1994-98. He was also briefly on the coaching staff in 2015.
Roenicke enjoyed his longest stint as a manager with the Brewers from 2011-15, winning a division title in his first year. He joined the Sox as Cora’s bench coach in 2018, and was named manager after the Red Sox parted ways with Cora in January 2020 when his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal of 2017 came to light.
Roenicke was let go as manager after a 24-36 record last year. Now he’s with the defending champions, reunited with Mookie Betts and David Price, who were traded to the Dodgers before last season.
“I’m really looking forward to this job,” he said. “It can evolve into different things and fits in well with what I do. I’m here in spring training now and I’ll be here all spring. It’s a really good spot for me to fit in and hopefully accomplish something great.”
Plawecki on COVID list
The Red Sox also announced backup catcher Kevin Plawecki has been placed on the COVID-19 related injured list. Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday.
Alex Speier and Tara Sullivan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.