The Hanshin Tigers have decided to exercise their option for 2016 on pitcher Randy Messenger, a source close to the team has told The Japan Times.
Messenger threw 193⅔ innings and finished 9-12 for the Tigers in 2015. The Reno, Nevada, native was often plagued with poor run support and finished the season with a 2.97 ERA that was second-best among Hanshin’s qualified starters and ninth-best in the Central League overall. His 194 strikeouts were second only to teammate Shintaro Fujinami’s 221 among CL pitchers.
Messenger got off to a slow start to the season, going 2-5 with a 5.88 ERA in eight outings before being sent to the farm. Messenger and the team were at odds about the way the information of his demotion was disseminated at the time, with the pitcher releasing a statement to explain his position.
He bounced back in a big way upon his return to the top team on May 29 and allowed two or fewer earned runs in 16 of his next 21 starts the rest of the way.
Messenger has spent six seasons in Japan, all with the Tigers. The right-hander is 61-54 with 939 strikeouts and a 3.05 ERA in 1,025⅓ innings in Japan.
Retaining Messenger would give the Tigers a solid trio at the top of their 2016 rotation. Fujinami, who was one of the finalists for the 2015 Sawamura Award, according to this year’s Sawamura committee chairman Tsuneo Horiuchi, is the likely headliner and lefty Atsushi Nomi could also be in the mix.
The Tigers could still be on the lookout for more foreign talent over the winter.
Outfielder Matt Murton was not offered a contract for the upcoming season, and Korean closer Oh Seung-hwan, who finished tied with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Tony Barnette for the most saves in the Central League this year at 41, is also departing. Oh is a free agent and plans to pursue a an MLB contract, Jeeho Yoo, of South Korea-based Yonhap News, reported on Monday.
One player who will be returning to the fold is infielder Mauro Gomez, who played in all 143 games and hit .271 with 17 home runs and 72 RBIs this season.
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