Following last night’s game against the A’s, the Rangers announced that Kohei Arihara would get the ball for the second contest of the series this evening. It’ll be the 30-year-old’s first big league appearance of the season, as he’s spent the entire season with Triple-A Round Rock after being outrighted off the 40-man roster last September. The Rangers 40-man is currently full, so they’ll need to make a corresponding move this afternoon to formally select Arihara’s contract. Longtime Texas beat reporter Jeff Wilson first suggested that he could be on the radar for a call-up.
A longtime member of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan, Arihara made the jump to MLB over the 2020-21 offseason. The right-hander was made available by the Fighters via the posting process, and he ultimately signed a two-year, $6.2MM contract. Texas also paid a $1.24MM posting fee to the Fighters, pushing their total investment to around $7.5MM.
Arihara never threw especially hard or missed many bats in Japan, but he was a polished strike-thrower who pitched to a 3.74 ERA over six NPB seasons. Texas hoped that control could allow him to flourish as a back-of-the-rotation arm in the big leagues, but that hasn’t been the case thus far. Arihara made ten big league starts last season, allowing a 6.64 ERA over 40 2/3 innings while struggling mightily with the home run ball (2.43 HR/9). He required shoulder surgery that May and spent nearly four months rehabbing before returning in September. After three more starts, he was run through waivers and assigned to Triple-A.
Through 18 appearances (14 starts) with Round Rock in 2022, Arihara has a 4.88 ERA in 72 innings. His 20.4% strikeout rate is a bit below-average, but he’s demonstrating his customary excellent control (5.8% walk percentage). More importantly, he’s gotten his home run rate to a more manageable level than it was during his first MLB stint, largely because he’s inducing grounders on over half the batted balls against him. Arihara’s season line still isn’t eye-catching, but he’s allowed three or fewer earned runs in each of his past five starts and will get a shot to try to carry that over against big league hitters.
Arihara’s contract wraps up at the end of the season, so the final couple months are particularly important for him personally. Capturing a rotation spot and performing serviceably over the next seven weeks would seem to be a prerequisite if he hopes to land a major league contract this winter. The Rangers have already bumped Taylor Hearn to a relief role after a rough run in the rotation, but they’re without Jon Gray due to an oblique strain and have given 18 starts to Glenn Otto without much consistent success. There’s enough uncertainty Arihara could have a path to picking up a handful of starts down the stretch.