The ninth inning probably will look a little different to begin the season.
Koji Uehara, who has been battling a hamstring injury, is “not likely” to be ready for Opening Day, according to Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell. While Uehara hasn’t officially been ruled out for the Red Sox’s April 6 opener, Farrell indicated Sunday there still are hurdles for the closer to clear.
“He’s going to need some additional increase in intensity and rehab to the hamstring,” Farrell told reporters in Fort Myers, Fla., before Sunday’s spring training game against the Tampa Bay Rays at JetBlue Park. “He felt it a little bit (Saturday) in the bullpen. He’s still able to do throwing to the point of keeping his arm in shape to a certain extent, but we’re not game ready yet.”
Uehara, who turns 40 on April 3, hasn’t appeared in a game since March 14. The hope was he’d be able to pitch in a game Monday — one week from Opening Day — but that no longer is the case. The right-hander remains sidelined, which could force Farrell to shuffle his bullpen at the beginning of the season.
Edward Mujica will serve as the Red Sox’s primary closer in Uehara’s absence, according to Farrell. But the skipper also isn’t ruling out anything as far as nailing down games.
“I will also say that we’ll look to matchups in the ninth inning as well,” Farrell said. “We’ll look to exploit the best matchups, and that can be any one of three or four guys — Taz (Junichi Tazawa), (Alexi) Ogando, and against tough lefties could be Tommy Layne. We’re not limiting any of our options.
“I’m not saying this is strictly a closer by committee, but we would look to close games out with (Mujica). But if there were certain situations that we feel like the better matchup is with a left-hander, I’m not opposed to doing it.”
Uehara signed a two-year, $18 million contract over the offseason after back-to-back solid campaigns. The veteran showed signs of regression late last season, but the Red Sox are confident in his ability to bounce back when healthy.
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