Nomo back in Japanese pipeline, to attempt comeback with Royals

Updated: January 5, 2008, 8:22 PM ET
Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Hideo Nomo is getting another shot at pitching in America.

The trailblazing Japanese right-hander signed a minor-league deal with the Kansas City Royals that includes an invitation to spring training next month. The 39-year-old hasn't pitched in the majors since 2005 and made seven starts in the Venezuelan winter league in 2006.

Hideo-us Numbers

Hideo Nomo threw two no-hitters in his first stint in the United States, but he also posted a couple of wretched numbers. Below are the worst season ERAs since 2004 (minimum 80 innings pitched).

Player Season ERA
Hideo Nomo 2004 8.25
Hideo Nomo 2005 7.24
Horacio Ramirez 2007 7.16
Mark Mulder 2006 7.14
Jose Lima 2005 6.99

"He's been a successful major league pitcher in the past, and we wanted to give him an opportunity to compete for a job," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said Friday. "Any player we bring into major league camp, we feel can compete for a job, and he's going to get a chance."

Nomo, who's had a history of shoulder problems, could fill a spot in the rotation or as a reliever. An added benefit would be mentoring Yasuhiko Yabuta.

If he is added to the major-league roster, Nomo would get a $600,000, one-year contract and have the chance to earn $100,000 in performance bonuses.

New Royals manager Trey Hillman spent the past five seasons managing the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan and helped lure Yabuta to Kansas City. The 34-year-old right-hander agreed to a $6 million, two-year contract in November and is expected to compete for a spot as the Royals' primary setup man.

"Obviously, it will be good with Yasuhiko Yabuta here," Moore said. "Hideo has a lot of experience and can help guide him along and serve as a role model."

Nomo wasn't the first Japanese player in the majors; Masanori Murakami pitched for the San Francisco Giants in 1964-65. But Nomo clearly had the biggest impact, leading an influx of Japanese pitchers who came across the Pacific the next few years, including Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Hideki Irabu and Tomo Ohka.

The migration of Japanese players continued over the years, with stars such as Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka leaving their homeland to make names for themselves in the United States as well.

Nomo's success provided the inspiration.

With a somewhat quirky delivery, the former Kintetsu Buffaloes ace made a big splash when he arrived in the United States in 1995, going 13-6 with a 2.54 ERA with the Los Angeles Dodgers, earning him a spot on the All-Star team and the National League rookie of the year award.

He pitched the first -- and still only -- no-hitter in the history of Colorado's Coors Field in 1996, and tossed another no-hitter against Baltimore while pitching for Boston.

Nomo was traded to the New York Mets in 1998 and moved on to Milwaukee, Detroit and Boston before returning to the Dodgers, where he went 32-19 in 2002 and 2003. He went 4-11 with an 8.25 ERA in 18 starts with Los Angeles in 2004 before undergoing shoulder surgery, then returned in 2005 with Tampa Bay, going 5-8 in 19 starts.

Nomo is 123-109 with a 4.21 ERA in 320 career appearances.

"I want to hang in there no matter what, hoping that I won't get injured," Nomo said Friday on his official Web site.

Nomo would earn $10,000 each for 20, 22 and 24 starts; $15,000 each for 26, 28 and 30 starts; and $25,000 for 32 starts. As a reliever, he would earn $10,000 each for 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55 appearances; and $20,000 for 60 appearances.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press