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Highly regarded amateur pitcher Junichi Tazawa left Japan for the United States on Monday after a U.S. media report said an agreement has been reached between him and the Boston Red Sox.

Tazawa is believed to be in the final stage of preparation to sign with the Red Sox, who have reportedly won the heart of the 22-year-old over three other major league clubs that also made offers — the Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners.

The ace of the Nippon Oil corporate team did not speak to reporters at Narita airport and was escorted on board by airline officials.

On Sunday, the Boston Globe, quoting a baseball source, said in its online edition that Tazawa “is due in Boston during the early or middle part of this week” to undergo a physical and an official announcement of his signing “will likely come as late as this week, depending on the pitcher’s precise travel schedule and the progress of his physical exam.”

The newspaper quoted the same source as saying that Tazawa’s deal is a major league contract worth an estimated $3 million over three years and that he would not be eligible for free agency until he completes six years of service.

The Boston Globe added that one Red Sox official indicated recently that the right-hander is expected to open his professional career in the minor leagues because he needs additional experience.

In September, Tazawa refused to be named in Japan’s amateur draft and clarified his intention to pursue a major league career. People close to Tazawa said he holds Boston pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka in high esteem and has been impressed with the Red Sox’s system for developing talent.

Darvish gets pay hike

SAPPORO (Kyodo) Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters right-hander Yu Darvish re-signed Monday with the Pacific League club for an estimated annual salary of ¥270 million, up ¥70 million from 2008, plus performance incentives.

The hefty raise came after the 22-year-old won a career-high 16 games against four losses this past season with a 1.88 ERA, 208 strikeouts and a Japanese baseball-leading 10 complete games.

It is the most lucrative salary deal for a player who has had four years of service since starting a professional career in Japan. The previous high was the ¥220 million outfielder Norichika Aoki made in 2008 in his fifth season with the Yakult Swallows.

“The numbers I put up don’t look bad, but the team did not win the championship and I was unable to win any major individual pitching titles. It wasn’t a satisfactory season,” Darvish said.

Noguchi to BayStars

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Free-agent catcher Toshihiro Noguchi agreed in principle Monday with the Yokohama BayStars on a two-year contract worth ¥160 million plus performance incentives.

His signing is expected to take place within days after the 37-year-old veteran, who played mostly as a backup catcher for the Hanshin Tigers the last six seasons, works out details of the terms with Yokohama.

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