Dodger closer

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I was glad to read this morning that Takashi Saito will return to the Dodgers next season, and was rewarded for his clutch saves as the Dodger closer — including the 4-2 win over the Giants that clinched last season’s playoff spot. From the Dodgers web site:

Saito, who left Japan with no fanfare last year and signed a $500,000 Minor League contract, didn’t even make the Major League club out of Spring Training, yet inherited the closer role in May and set a franchise rookie record with 24 saves.

Saito, who will be 37 when Spring Training opens, went 6-2 with a 2.07 ERA and successfully converted all but two save opportunities in 2006. With a repertoire that includes a moving fastball in the low-90 mph range and a sharp slider and splitter, Saito struck out 107 batters in 78 1/3 innings and limited opponents to a .177 average — right-handed batters hit only .129 off him.

The oldest rookie in Dodgers history, Saito was a four-time All-Star in Japan as a starter and a closer, but he was an outright free agent last winter, and the Dodgers were not required to post a fee to earn the rights to sign him. He has turned out to be quite a bargain in light of the $51 million Boston has anted for the right to sign Japanese starter Daisuke Matsuzaka.

“It’s a unique situation, and you can tell by the salary that we treated it that way,” said vice president Kim Ng, who handled negotiations for the club. “He was a pretty integral part of the club, especially in the second half, and he was rewarded for that.”

By the way, the new Dodgers jerseys will include the player’s name on the back, so no more guessing who is who next season.

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