BOSTON — Koji Uehara played a vital role on the 2013 World Series champion Red Sox, and he might have to do it again in 2016.
The 41-year-old reliever started this season off shaky, leaving many wondering if the lights-out version of Uehara everyone saw three years ago was done. But since returning Sept. 7 from seven weeks on the disabled list without a single rehab appearance under his belt, Uehara has been that guy yet again.
In five innings over five appearances, Uehara has given up no runs on just three hits while strucking out six. And his 1-2-3 eighth inning in the Red Sox’s 7-4 win over the New York Yankees on Friday had people talking.
“Starting to see a little bit of uptick in the finish to his pitches, which is encouraging,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Felt like it was going to take some outings to build the arm strength further. But what he’s done is he’s located extremely well. He hasn’t missed with his split in the middle of the plate. We talked about before the game, with Koji’s return, it just gives a little more flexibility, with Brad (Ziegler) particularly. Knowing you’ve got Koji available, it can be a fairly comfortable inning.”
Boston’s bullpen has been up and down this season, getting ravaged by injuries and worn out from poor starts. But the Red Sox’s relievers have the best ERA in baseball in September at 0.74, giving up just three earned runs in 36 1/3 innings. Uehara’s health only makes the ‘pen stronger.
“Koji, everybody here knows what Koji can do for this team,” starter Clay Buchholz said after Friday’s win. “2013 was probably the best example that I’ve ever seen. He’s not overpowering, he’s got a really good split-fingered fastball, and mixes in a cutter now and then. If Koji’s right I think our bullpen’s pretty much solidified. Hopefully we can keep this going and moving forward.”
Do the 2016 Red Sox have what it takes to follow in the 2013 squad’s footsteps? Possibly. But it’s perhaps more important that the 2016 Koji Uehara continues on like the 2013 version, and so far, things are looking up.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images