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12/13/07 11:07 PM ET

Rangers reel in Japan's Fukumori

Right-hander expected to compete for late-inning role

ARLINGTON -- One night after dispatching one Japanese relief pitcher from their roster, the Rangers added another Thursday by agreeing to terms on a two-year, $3 million contract with right-hander Kazuo Fukumori.

Fukumori, 31, pitched just 36 innings last season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Pacific League. He posted a 4-2 record and 4.75 ERA before undergoing season-ending surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow. But in 2006, Fukumori amassed a career-high 21 saves and a 2.17 ERA over 58 innings.

"Kaz is a guy who has a chance to really help our 'pen," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "He's got the right makeup for it and is very motivated to prove himself here in the States."

The Rangers have scheduled a news conference for Friday at 2 p.m. CT to officially announce the signing, one that could signal an open competition for the closer's role when Spring Training opens in February.

The club decided Wednesday not to tender a contract to Akinori Otsuka, the Japanese right-hander who opened last season as the team's closer but was unable to pitch after July 1 because of pain and tightness in his right forearm.

Eric Gagne, who supplanted Otsuka as closer last year, was traded to the Boston Red Sox during the second half of the season and last week signed with the Milwaukee Brewers as a free agent.

Hot Stove

That leaves Fukumori, right-hander Joaquin Benoit and left-hander C.J. Wilson as the leading candidates to fill the late-inning setup and closer roles next season. Daniels conceded on Wednesday that Wilson (12 saves in 14 opportunities in his first full season in the Majors) had the inside track for the closer's job. But that was also before he would acknowledge interest in Fukumori.

"I think, if you took a straw poll of [manager Ron Washington] and his staff, C.J. would probably emerge as the top internal candidate," Daniels said. "But we haven't gotten to that point yet. It's not over."

Fukumori's professional career began in 1995, the first of his nine seasons with the Yokohama BayStars. He jumped to the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes in 2004, before joining the Tohoku Rakuten club for the past three seasons.

In 377 career games (including 48 starts) in Japan's top leagues, Fukumori compiled a 34-42 record with 72 saves and a 3.68 ERA. He allowed 670 hits in 662 innings, including 56 home runs. He walked 243 and struck out 460.

Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.