Following last night’s game against the A’s, the Rangers announced that Kohei Arihara will get the ball for the second straight game this evening. The season will be the 30-year-old’s first big league start, having spent the entire season with Triple-A Round Rock since coming off the 40-man roster last September. The Rangers 40 man is currently full, so they will have to make a similar move this afternoon to officially pick up Arihara’s contract. Longtime Texas beat reporter Jeff Wilson suggested he might be on the radar for the first call.
A longtime member of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Warriors in Japan, Arihara made the jump to the MLB in the 2020-21 season. The right-hander was made available to the Warriors through the posting process and eventually signed a two-year, $6.2 million contract. Texas also paid the Warriors a $1.24 million posting fee, bringing their total investment to $7.5 million.
Arihara didn’t throw or miss a lot of at-bats, particularly in Japan, but he was a polished strike-thrower who pitched to a 3.74 ERA in 6 NPB seasons. Texas had hoped that control would allow him to flourish as a back-to-back arm in the big leagues, but that hasn’t happened yet. Arihara made ten big league starts last season, allowing a 6.64 ERA over 40 2/3 innings while struggling mightily against the home run ball (2.43 HR/9). He required shoulder surgery in May and spent nearly four months rehabbing before returning in September. After three more starts, he raced through waivers and was assigned to Triple-A.
In 18 games (14 starts) with Round Rock in 2022, Arihara has a 4.88 ERA in 72 innings. His 20.4% strikeout rate is slightly below average, but he’s showing his usual superior control (5.8% walk percentage). More importantly, he’s managed his home run rate better than he did in his first MLB season, largely due to more than half of the batters hitting him. Arihara’s season line is still unspectacular, but he’s allowed three runs or fewer in each of his last five starts and will get a shot at trying to carry that over against the big league righties.
Arihara’s contract expires at the end of the season, so the last two months are especially important for him. Holding down a rotation spot and working his way into service over the next seven weeks seems a prerequisite if he hopes to land a major league contract this summer. The Rangers already have Taylor Hearn in a relief role after a run in the rotation, but he’s made 18 starts without much success for Glenn Othon due to a hamstring strain without John Gray. With enough uncertainty, Arihara might have a way of taking a few starts down.