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Diamondbacks introduce relief pitcher Yoshihisa Hirano

Yoshihisa Hirano poses for a photo with Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen at Hirano's introductory press conference on Monday, Feb. 12. Hirano will partake in his first year of Major League Baseball after spending 12 years in the Nippon Professional League in Japan. (Photo by Andrew Bell/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — In front of a packed media room at Salt River Fields on Monday morning, the Arizona Diamondbacks introduced their newest relief pitcher, Yoshihisa Hirano.

Hirano will be entering his first season in Major League Baseball after spending 12 seasons with the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan.

With the Buffaloes, Hirano recorded 143 saves during the past five seasons, and the 34-year old right-hander is expected to compete with Archie Bradley and Brad Boxberger in hopes of securing the role of closer this season.

“The D-backs were the first team that made me an offer,” Hirano said through an interpreter. “When me and my family came over to visit in December, general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo (were) there … they made my family feel like part of their home already.”

Hirano’s wife and two children were in the front row of the news conference, and Lovullo also was in attendance to present Hirano with his No. 66 jersey.

Among many topics, Hirano discussed his role out of the bullpen, his language barrier with teammates, and even his experience in the World Baseball Classic last Spring that led him toward wanting to play baseball in the United States.

“My experience in the WBC last year was a huge part (of the decision),” Hirano said. “Being on the mound and using the Major League baseballs that I was using; it felt comfortable … that was a huge part.”

Hirano will become just the second Japanese player to play in the major leagues for the Diamondbacks, and he will look to add to a bullpen that is now without Fernando Rodney after Rodney signed with the Minnesota Twins as a free agent this offseason.

“I have been a closer in Japan, so hopefully that will be my goal, but I am willing to pitch in any situation,” Hirano said.

Following Bradley’s success as a setup man last year, it would appear that he would be the frontrunner to grab the reins as the Diamondbacks closer.

However, this year’s spring training will prove to be an enticing time as the Diamondbacks look to try and fill a void in a crucial spot at the back end of their bullpen.

“My specialty is fastball, split (combination),” Hirano said. “The most important thing that I feel is to be able to execute each of those pitches. I feel that I was able to do that in Japan, but I am hoping that I can do the same here in the big leagues.”

As for any possible language barriers among teammates, Hirano noted that he has a special instructor in mind to help obtain the intricacies of the English language.

“It’s a very important thing and I am going to take that seriously, to be able to communicate as much as I can on my own,” Hirano said. “My wife is going to take English lessons as well, and hopefully she can be my tutor.”

One possible question mark surrounding Hirano is his age, and how it will affect him over the course of a rigorous, 162-game schedule.

Nevertheless, Hirano noted that the transition to the U.S. won’t phase him, and there have been other older pitchers who have come to the United States and obtained success late in their careers.

“There has been a lot of pitchers from Japan who have jumped over to the big leagues at my age,” Hirano said.

“Some of these guys are pitching well into their 40s, so I still don’t feel that I am on the downside of my career, but hopefully I can continue to have the success that I had in Japan.”

Pitchers and catchers will report Wednesday, and Cactus League play begins Feb. 23 at Salt River Fields.

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