Kiss that whole “back-to-back games” concern goodbye.
Koji Uehara, who was named the Red Sox’ closer last week in place of Andrew Bailey, breezed through the ninth inning on Thursday to nail down a 7-4 win over the Blue Jays. It was Uehara’s second save in as many days, and it all but erased the biggest question surrounding the veteran’s new assignment.
Uehara pitched in back-to-back games on six separate occasions before taking the ball on Thursday, yet there was a perception that the Red Sox wanted to avoid using the 38-year-old in such a capacity. It’s now clear that the perception was simply that, as Uehara looks to be fitting into his new role, which could require an increased workload, just fine.
“We’ve used him on back-to-back days probably five or six times — I don’t have the exact number off the top of my head — but each time that he’s pitched on back-to-back days he’s been as efficient and as successful,” manager John Farrell said following the win. “Whether or not we use him on a third consecutive day, we’ll check with him tomorrow when he comes in, but when Andrew Bailey’s struggles began, it was a clear-cut decision that Uehara would be the next guy in that role. He’s pitched in that role in Japan, he’s saved a number of games here in the [United] States and I think the biggest key for him is that he doesn’t change who he is or what he attempts to do regardless of the inning.”
Uehara has been used mostly as a setup man, but Bailey blew three of five save chances, and it was clear that the Red Sox needed to make a change. Listening to Farrell, it sounds as if going with Uehara in place of Bailey was the only option, and we’re seeing why.
“Strike-throwing ability and as we saw with the leadoff hitter with [Adam] Lind, he gets in a 2-1 count [and] he’s got that split he can go to to slow some hitters down,” Farrell said. “But regardless if it’s the ninth, the sixth or whatever inning he’s pitching, he doesn’t change his approach, and he has a pitch to get himself back into a given count. Another clean inning.”
Uehara lowered his ERA to 1.97 with the perfect frame on Thursday. He’s been striking out hitters at a fantastic clip all season, and he rarely puts himself into a bad situation because of walks. That’s a good combination to have, and one that’s a breath of fresh air after watching Bailey’s ninth-inning struggles.
The only thing that appeared to be holding Uehara back from being an obvious closer candidate was the whole “back-to-back” games thing. We can officially throw that idea out the window, and Uehara now has a chance to throw a stranglehold on the new gig.