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Matsui looks forward to key relief role with Padres as well as being teammates with Darvish

By BERNIE WILSON
AP Sports Writer

SAN DIEGO (AP) — New San Diego Padres reliever Yuki Matsui says he’s not expecting to come in and become the closer right away but is looking forward to pitching in big late-inning situations.

The 28-year-old left-hander is one of two new Padres relievers who will compete to replace All-Star closer Josh Hader, who became a free agent after last season, when San Diego flopped and missed the playoffs. Matsui, who signed on Dec. 23, can earn $33.6 million over five seasons if he becomes the team’s closer. He could opt out of the deal after three years and $14.5 million if his pitching elbow remains healthy.

The cost-cutting Padres also signed South Korean reliever Woo-Suk Go to a $4.5 million, two-year contract that includes a 2026 mutual option plus bonus and escalator provisions that could make the deal worth $9.4 million over three seasons if he closes regularly.

General manager A.J. Preller said last week the Padres will sort out roles during spring training. It’s likely Robert Suarez would begin the season as closer.

“The fact of the matter is, I haven’t pitched a single pitch in the big leagues yet. Maybe it’s not realistic to say that I’ll be pitching in the ninth inning as we start the season,” Matsui said through an interpreter during a videoconference with reporters on Tuesday. “But I’d like to just go in there when given the opportunity, get outs and sort of build a trust from the team and from my teammates. Hopefully, I’m in one of those high-leverage situations to pitch in games.”

The 5-foot-8 Matsui was a five-time All-Star in Japan for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, leading the Pacific League in saves in 2019, 2022 and 2023. He had a career-best 39 saves with a 1.57 ERA and 2-3 record last season, striking out 72 and walking 13 in 57 1/3 innings.

He has a 2.40 career ERA, 236 saves and a 1.11 WHIP. He is the youngest pitcher in the Japanese major leagues to reach 200 saves.

Matsui said a big part of his decision to sign with San Diego was that countryman Yu Darvish is the Padres’ ace.

“I had an opportunity to be teammates with him during the WBC last year and obviously, needless to say how good of a player he is, but my take on him is that he’s a great person, too; very respectable, both in baseball and as a human being,” Matsui said. “So just to get the chance to be close to him every day at the field and spend time with him, I thought that’s something very beautiful.”

The Padres had a $258 million payroll on opening day last year, the third-highest in the majors, but were a major disappointment. Following the death of owner Peter Seidler in November, the team is expected to pare payroll to less than $200 million in order to get under the luxury tax threshold.

As part of their cost-cutting, the Padres traded All-Star slugger Juan Soto and center fielder Trent Grisham to the New York Yankees last month for five players. Soto has one season of team control left and is likely to get a salary around $32 million.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB

Article Topic Follows: ap-california-news

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