KITCHENER – Say konnichiwa to the newest pitcher for the Kitchener Panthers.
The Intercounty Baseball League club has signed 22-year-old Keisuke Saito, a former third-round draft pick of the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese baseball league.
Saito, who arrived in Kitchener Thursday after an overnight flight from California, is expected to get into a game as soon as this weekend.
The team hopes the big right hander, who throws a fastball in the high 80s to low 90s miles per hour range and has a good off-speed pitch, will make an immediate impact. He’ll primarily be used out of the bullpen, but may start games as needed.
“We’re hoping he’s going to come in right away and get people out,” said Scott Ballantyne, team’s general manager. “He’s going to give us a lot more depth. He’s a big, strong kid and he’s not your typical small guy coming over from Asia.”
Because IBL teams are limited to four import players, the Panthers had to cut their other Japanese reliever, submariner Daisuke Yasui, to make room on their roster. Two other import spots are taken by starters Matt Robertson and Marcos Reyna, and leadoff man Keith Kandel has the third.
Yasui, 35, was the odd man out as a specialty reliever who was only seeing limited innings. The side-arm style pitcher has given up five hits and three runs in 6.1 innings of work for Kitchener this season.
Saito comes to Canada with a notable baseball pedigree.
He was drafted by the Giants – Japan’s most iconic franchise – out of high school, and was released by the team after the 2012 season as he recovered from an arm injury. Most recently, he was pitching in the Texas Winter League, where he struck out 14 batters in 15 innings of work, but earned a bloated 7.80 earned run average.
He’s been working out in San Diego since and looking for a job. The Panthers believe he’s “100 per cent healthy” and will adjust quickly to his new surroundings.
“You never know what’s it like to get acclimated to another country, but we expect that baseball is baseball and he’ll be able to take care of business,” the general manager said.The Panthers’ next game is Friday night in Hamilton. To get more team news, visit therecord.blogs.com/panthers.