MLB: Former Montreal Expos Pitcher Tomo Ohka Working on Knuckleball

Ten-year MLB veteran Tomo Ohka is hoping to return to the big leagues as a knuckleball pitcher.

Former MLB pitcher Tomo Ohka is hoping to make a return to the big leagues as a knuckleball pitcher. He threw in front of scouts from the Orioles, Royals, Rays, and Diamondbacks on November 2. Ohka has been working on his knuckleball since being released by the Yokohama Bay Stars after the 2011 season.

Tomo Ohka spent 10 years in the major leagues from 1999 to 2009 (missing the 2008 season). He pitched for five teams, with the bulk of his time spent with the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox. In his career, he was 51-68 with a 4.26 ERA. His best year was with the Expos in 2002 when he was 13-8 with a 3.18 ERA.

Before joining the Red Sox prior to the 1999 season, Ohka pitched four seasons for the Yokohama Bay Stars in the Japanese Central League. After his MLB career ended with the 2009 Cleveland Indians, Ohka returned to the Bay Stars in 2010 and 2011. He then started working on his knuckleball and did not pitch professionally for two seasons. Ohka was in Japan at this time and, according to the Japanese Canadian Community Bulletin, he was the first Japanese pitcher to throw a knuckleball. He looked for someone in Japan to teach him, but couldn’t find anyone so he took his research to the internet for instructional videos. He bought a net and threw hundreds of knuckleballs a day to refine his skills.

One of the early problems Ohka had was trying to throw the knuckleball with too much emphasis on his fingernails. He became more successful with the pitch when he developed a better feel with his fingertips. Like most knuckleball pitchers, a nail file became a necessity.

The Toronto Blue Jays brought him into camp during Spring Training in 2014 so he could work with knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey and provide another knuckleball pitcher to work with the Blue Jays’ catchers. He didn’t make the team and ended up signing with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Independent Atlantic League.

Ohka wasn’t very good with the Bluefish in 2014. He finished 7-12 with a 5.15 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in 157 1/3 innings. He only struck out 49 batters (2.8 K/9) and walked 74 (4.2 BB/9).

If he signs with a major league team, many longtime fans of the Montreal Expos will be rooting for Ohka to get back to the big leagues. Bartolo Colon is the last remaining former Montreal Expos player in Major League Baseball. He played a half-season with the team in 2002. Ohka’s Expos legacy goes back to the 2001 season and he had a longer career with the team than Colon. It would be nice to see another former Expo get back out there. Ohka is also the only Montreal Expos player ever to be mentioned in an episode of The Simpsons. On an episode from March 16, 2003, Bart Simpson said, “Look at me! I’m Tomokazu Ohka of the Montreal Expos!”

The best case scenario for baseball fans would be for Tomo Ohka to sign with the Atlanta Braves, so he could pitch with the other former Expo, Bartolo Colon, and his knuckleballing mentor, R.A. Dickey. Please make this happen, Atlanta!