Softbank’s Saito gives up on comeback


Fukuoka Softbank’s Kazumi Saito, who is the Pacific League club’s rehabilitation coach, said Monday he has given up on coming back from right-shoulder surgery and will leave the team at the end of the month.

The two-time Sawamura Award winner, whose final mound appearance was in the first stage of the Climax Series against the Chiba Lotte Marines on Oct. 8, 2007, had been prepared to end his career if he did not make the 70-man roster before the July 31 deadline.

“I tried to stay hopeful over the past two months, but I felt, this month in particular, that I reached my wit’s end,” said the 35-year-old Saito. “I am disappointed. That’s all I feel, actually.”

A first-round pick of the Daiei Hawks from Minami Kyoto High School in the 1995 draft, Saito went 20-3 to lead the PL in wins in 2003. He won both the MVP title and Sawamura Award with a league-best 2.83 ERA that year.

In 2006, Saito went 18-5 and had a 1.75 ERA among his four titles en route to his second Sawamura Award.

But chronic shoulder trouble began for the right-hander after his stellar rise and he was released from the club in 2010, although Softbank kept him as rehab coach with the hope that he could make a comeback somewhere down the road.

“I am really grateful for the organization’s support. There are few teams that would give a player the opportunity I was given to try to make a comeback like this.”

Asked if he plans to continue a career in coaching, Saito said, “To be honest, I have no idea what I’m going to do right now. I have to consider what I want to do.”

The Kyoto native, who is married to Japanese celebrity Suzanne, had a career 79-23 record in 150 games.

“This is something he decided on his own, so I think he must be relieved,” said Softbank manager Koji Akiyama. “Six years of rehab must have been tough but he took the world by storm at one point. He said he was going to take a nice, long break.”