BOSTON — Koji Uehara has been removed from the Red Sox’s closer role. He isn’t being shut down for the remainder of the 2014 season, though.
Uehara will pitch in lower-leverage situations as he works through his ongoing struggles, according to Red Sox manager John Farrell. The Red Sox’s hope is that Uehara will return to the role before the end of the season, but Edward Mujica will be the closer for the time being.
“After having a chance to sit with Koji, he was understanding, understands the reason for it,” Farrell said before Friday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park, “and we’ll probably give him a couple of days to regroup some and then look to get him back into some lower-leverage situations.”
Uehara surrendered two home runs in the ninth inning of Thursday’s walk-off loss to the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. He has allowed 10 earned runs on 14 hits in 4 2/3 innings over his last six appearances, during which he has blown three saves and suffered three losses. Uehara, who allowed nine earned runs all of last season, has struggled to replicate his once-unhittable splitter in recent outings.
“I think it’s more the intent behind the pitch,” Farrell said. “For instance, look at (Mark) Teixeira’s at-bat (Thursday). The first (splitter) he threw him, there was good depth to it, there was swing and miss. And then after three consecutive (splitters), it didn’t have the same consistent finish and that’s where he’s getting hurt right now — how many times can he throw it inside a given at-bat, and does it have the same action to it?”
Uehara’s ERA has jumped from 1.27 to 2.64 since Aug. 15. In his lone scoreless effort in six appearances, he allowed three inherited runners to score while blowing a save.
The Red Sox have built in extra rest for the 39-year-old, who has been used extensively over the last two seasons, but the insistence from both the team and Uehara is that his recent woes aren’t due to fatigue or any other physical issues.
“First of all, he’s healthy. There’s no reason to shut down a healthy player,” Farrell said. “There’s no physical ailments. He doesn’t complain of anything. He downplays the fatigue that has been discussed or written about or reported. So we have to factor all that in yet not be blind to the number of appearances he’s had over the last two years.
“There’s no intent to shut him down, but yet we’re dealing with a stretch of games that might be similar to one that he had when he first started with Texas. And we’re working with him to get through this.”
Mujica, who has three saves this season, saved 37 games with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013 before being removed from the closer’s role in the second half. The Red Sox signed him over the offseason with the idea he’d provide closer insurance in case something happened to Uehara.