Hideki Okajima is sound of mind and shoulder and ready to pitch for the A's.

On Tuesday morning, he made the first step. He passed his physical, signed a minor league deal and dressed to take part in the first spring training session for A's pitchers and catchers.

That must come as something of a surprise to the New York Yankees.

It was at about this time a year ago that the Yankees, who had invited former Boston Red Sox short reliever Okajima to spring training, sent him packing, saying that he'd failed his physical exam.

The Yankees found the left-hander's shoulder ailing, and he headed back to Japan, wondering if his big league career was over.

"I wondered `Is this it for the Major Leagues?' '' Okajima, talking through an interpreter, said Tuesday on arriving at Oakland's Phoenix Municipal Stadium home.

He caught on with Softbank in Japan and put together a stellar year — a 0.96 ERA in 56 games and 472/3 innings pitching mostly situational relief. And he did it all with the shoulder the Yankees had deemed dicey.

"I was very surprised to be told I'd failed the physical,'' Okajima said. "I was able to go to Softbank and have a good year, but I always wanted to return to the Major Leagues.''