Reliever Fukumori ready to test MLB, signs 2-year deal with Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Just call him Kaz. That's what the Texas
Rangers' new relief pitcher prefers.

Acquiring help for the bullpen, the Rangers introduced Japanese
reliever Kazuo Fukumori on Friday after the sides agreed to a $3
million, two-year deal that includes a team option for 2010.

While Fukumori knows little English, he introduced himself and
added, "Call me Kaz." The right-hander said he came to America
for a new challenge.

"A lot of Japanese players are now playing in the major
leagues," Fukumori said through a translator. "I had heard from
everybody that I should challenge myself in the majors. That's why
I came."

The Rangers also signed infielder Edgardo Alfonzo to a minor
league contract. The 34-year-old Alfonzo, an All-Star with the New
York Mets in 2000, played last season with the Long Island Ducks in
the independent Atlantic League and has also played in Venezuela.

Fukumori spent the past 13 seasons in Japan, where he was 34-42
with a 3.72 ERA and 72 saves in 377 games (47 starts). He was
exclusively a reliever the last five seasons.

"What really stood out to us about Kaz is makeup," Rangers
general manager Jon Daniels said. "We feel he has the right
temperament, the right character to succeed. ... He's got the
traits we look for, guys that want the ball, guys that are not
afraid, guys that throw strikes and attack the zone."

Fukumori was 4-2 with 17 saves and a 4.75 ERA in 34 games this
season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. His season was
shortened when he had surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow,
but he has been rehabilitating at home and expects to be ready for
opening day.

Fukumori, who has thrown off a mound since his surgery,
completed a physical for the Rangers on Wednesday.

"He only took four to six weeks off and was throwing again. It
was a very minor procedure," Daniels said.

Alfonzo played 12 major league seasons with the Mets
(1995-2002), San Francisco (2003-05), Los Angeles Angels (2006) and
Toronto (2006) and is a .284 hitter in 1,506 career games. He hit
.266 with 56 RBIs in 105 games for Long Island this year.

"He is a utility option for us. If it works out, great,"
Daniels said. "It's a low-risk deal. We'll give an opportunity and
see what he can do."

If Alfonzo is added to the Rangers' roster, he will get a
$650,000 contract and can earn an additional $342,000 in
performance bonuses.

The Rangers haven't determined if they will use Fukumori as a
setup reliever or a closer. Fukumori said he will do whatever
manager Ron Washington wants.

"I was a closer in Japan," he said. "Everybody was depending
on me to win the game, and that's what made me fearless."

Left-hander C.J. Wilson (2-1, 12 saves in 66 appearances) became
the primary closer for Texas after Eric Gagne was traded to Boston
on July 31. The Rangers talked to Gagne again before he signed with
Milwaukee this month.

The Rangers this week declined to offer a contract to reliever
Akinori Otsuka, making him a free agent.

Otsuka had 32 saves in 2006 for Texas. He was 2-1 with a 2.51
ERA and four saves in 34 appearances this season, when he was back
in the setup role before missing the final three months because of
a sore right elbow.

Fukumori took his physical the same day as outfielder Milton Bradley, who got a one-year deal worth up to $8 million. Bradley is
coming off surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his
right knee and damaged cartilage.

Washington, a coach in Oakland when Bradley played for the
Athletics in 2006, said the tentative plan is for him to begin the
season as the designated hitter and eventually play the outfield.

"We will take him slow," Washington said. "But Milton is
looking good. He might be ready April 1 to go. If he's ready to go
April 1, then he'll be in right field."