• Kyodo

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Yokohama BayStars pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki said Sunday he has decided to draw the curtain on his illustrious 16-year career, which includes stints in Japan and the major leagues, after this season.

News photoKazuhiro Sasaki

The 37-year-old right-hander has been left out of the picture for next season by the Central League team after a nagging knee injury delayed his comeback to the top team in his final year of a two-year contract.

“I told the team on Wednesday that I’d like to hang up my glove,” Sasaki said in a news conference at Yokohama Stadium.

“I have no regrets. The past three years, in my last year in the majors and the two years since I came back to Yokohama, I haven’t been able to show good results and haven’t been able to put on a decent pitching performance, and I’m sorry to the fans.”

Last week, Sasaki told club president Susumu Minegishi and manager Kazuhiko Ushijima that he hopes to pitch in an Aug. 9 game against the Yomiuri Giants in his hometown of Sendai, brushing aside reports that he will be making his final game appearance there.

Sasaki, who left the Seattle Mariners in January 2004 to restart his career in Japan under a two-year contract with Yokohama, is 0-3 with four saves and a 9.53 ERA in eight games this season.

A series of blown saves prompted the Yokohama coaching staff to demote him to the farm team in late April. He had surgery to clean joints in his right knee in May and has been undergoing rehabilitation since then.

Sasaki, who is the highest-paid player in Japanese baseball with an estimated annual salary of 650 million yen, has a career record of 43-38 with 252 saves in Japan and 7-16 with 129 saves in the majors.

He joined the Taiyo Whales, the forerunner of the BayStars, from Tohoku Fukushi University in 1990 as their top draft pick and has been named the Central League’s best reliever five times.

In 1998, Sasaki won CL MVP honors after posting 45 saves and an 0.64 ERA to help Yokohama win the league and Japan Series titles. He joined Seattle as a free agent in 2000 and was named the American League Rookie of the Year.

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