Could Derek Jeter’s final game against the Boston Red Sox in the Bronx also be Koji Uehara’s final game of 2014?
Uehara surrendered two home runs in the ninth inning Thursday as the New York Yankees walked off with a 5-4 win at Yankee Stadium. The blown save was the latest in a string of rough performances for Uehara, whom the Red Sox could — and should — finally consider shutting down for the remainder of the season.
“It’ll be a situation where I’ll talk to Koji first (about) what our plan would be, whether that’s more extended rest, whether that is the potential to shutting him down,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Thursday’s loss. “We just walked off the field, and I think out of respect to Koji and respect to what he’s done for us for two outstanding years, I’m not in a position to announce that right now.”
The Red Sox have refrained from shutting down Uehara despite the closer’s ongoing struggles. Uehara has remained adamant that his recent woes aren’t a product of fatigue, though the Red Sox have built in extra rest of late in order to alleviate any concerns regarding his workload over the last two seasons.
Uehara has allowed 10 earned runs on 14 hits in 4 2/3 innings over his last six appearances. His lone scoreless outing in that span involved him allowing three inherited runners to score against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 25 en route to a blown save. He has surrendered four home runs while posting a 19.29 ERA in the six appearances. By comparison, Uehara allowed nine earned runs all of last season.
Thursday’s implosion against the Yankees was reminiscent of Uehara’s previous meltdowns. He got to two strikes on both Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley but couldn’t put away either hitter. Uehara left a flat splitter up in the zone in each instance, resulting in two clutch bombs and an important win for the Yankees.
“From viewing and even talking to Koji, it’s the finish, whether it’s the intensity behind the delivery of the pitch,” Farrell said while trying to make sense of why Uehara’s once-untouchable splitter suddenly has become so ineffective. “On occasion, he’ll show one (that’s good). The first one to Teixeira had good depth to it for the swing and miss. But the inconsistency to it, which he’s been so good with, that’s lacking.”
Uehara has thrown 149 1/3 innings over the last two seasons between the regular season and playoffs combined. He also dealt with an offseason shortened by a full month because of the Red Sox’s World Series run and will turn 40 years old before Opening Day 2015. The reality of the situation is that Uehara has been worked to the bone and is no spring chicken. While the right-hander might not want to acknowledge that his recent struggles stem from fatigue, there’s no denying that there’s a direct correlation between his innings soaring and his ERA skyrocketing.
Uehara was afforded eight days between his Aug. 25 breakdown north of the border and Tuesday’s appearance against the Yankees, during which he surrendered a home run in a non-save situation. At this point, however, it’s looking like an even more extended period of down time would be the best course of action for both Uehara and the Red Sox.
The Red Sox have made it clear they’d like to retain Uehara, who is set to become a free agent this winter. As the closer’s struggles begin to mount amid a lost season, it might be time for Uehara to close the book on 2014 in order to gear up for 2015, when his performance could be of the utmost importance to Boston.