BOSTON — The Red Sox have come to expect a lot — perhaps too much, at times — of Koji Uehara. When the typically dominant closer looks average, like he did Tuesday, it throws everyone for a loop.
Uehara entered Tuesday’s game against the Chicago Cubs in the ninth inning with the score tied 1-1. He immediately ran into trouble and allowed a run en route to a 2-1 loss, after which the 39-year-old said he’s dealing with “a little bit of fatigue.”
“I think the command of my split is not quite where I want it to be,” Uehara said through translator C.J. Matsumoto.
Anthony Rizzo led off the ninth inning against Uehara and lined a first-pitch splitter into center field. Starlin Castro sent a 3-2 splitter to the left field wall after laying off one in the dirt on the previous pitch. Luis Valbuena cashed in with a sacrifice fly to right field to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Uehara has looked somewhat human — at least by his standards — of late, beginning June 18, when he surrendered a home run to Minnesota’s Chris Parmelee in the top of the 10th inning before David Ortiz and Mike Napoli crushed back-to-back homers to give Boston a 2-1 win. Uehara gave up two more homers on June 22 in Oakland, forcing the Red Sox to pull out a 7-6 victory in extra innings.
“A number of early swings,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said when asked to explain Uehara’s unusual stretch of normalcy. “When he’s given up some base hits, it’s been on first or second pitch, where he’s trying to get a strike and it’s not the true putaway split. … It’s been more in the early counts where we’ve seen some the damage take place.”
Uehara thinks there’s some truth to Farrell’s assessment and insists he’ll make adjustments. The veteran reliever also plans to continue to take good care of his body in an effort to overcome his fatigue, though the perfect solution to the latter issue is actually unattainable.
“I probably need to get younger,” Uehara joked.
It wouldn’t be fair to say Uehara, who owns a 1.40 ERA in 38 appearances this season, is “struggling” right now. But he certainly has raised eyebrows of late for reasons beyond his overall nastiness.