Goodbye, Koji, we hardly knew you

Is the Uehara experiment over for good?

May 24, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

So, the Koji Uehara era in Baltimore comes to another screeching halt, and this time it might be for good.

I say that because at some point Tuesday, the Orioles will probably place him on the disabled list with a right elbow strain.

Which means this will be the fourth time the 35-year-old reliever has been on the DL since signing a two-year, $10 million deal with the club before the start of last season.

And given how quickly he has healed in the past — let's face it, there are dead people who heal quicker — it could be a while before you see him pitch again in an Orioles uniform.

Everyone made a big deal — and rightfully so — about Uehara being the first Japanese-born player to play for the Orioles.

And maybe his signing will lead to other promising Japanese players wanting to come here. At least the pipeline is open now.

But otherwise you have to say the Koji deal has been one big, fat bust.

Let's face it, this is not just a pitcher who broke down occasionally with the Orioles.

No, this is a pitcher who has mostly stayed broken down during his career here, with only occasional bouts of healthiness.

He made only 12 starts last season because of injuries, going 2-4 with a 4.05 ERA and ending up on the DL twice with hamstring problems and elbow tendinitis.

This season, the Orioles moved him to the bullpen, hoping shorter stints on the mound would keep him healthier and more productive.

It didn't work.

He got hurt in spring training, straining his hamstring, and didn't join the Orioles until May 6.

From that point on, the Orioles used him cautiously — he pitched only five innings in six appearances — as the team tried to make sure he wouldn't break down again.

But that didn't work, either.

Now it looks like he's headed back to the DL.

"I don't know what to say except I feel terrible," Uehara said through his interpreter, Jiwon Bang.

He feels terrible?

How do you think the Orioles feel?

How do you think Dave Trembley feels?

OK, as of this writing, it looks like he'll keep his managing job — at least for a while. With the way this team is playing, I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing for his emotional well-being.

But now he loses another reliever with his bullpen already depleted.

His closer, Michael Gonzalez, is on the DL. His emergency closer, Jim Johnson, is on the DL.

His backup emergency closer, Alfredo Simon, pulled up lame in Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Washington Nationals and will probably end up on the DL with a strained hammy, too.

Brian Roberts and Felix Pie are on the list, too. Pretty soon, there will be enough guys on the DL to get up a softball game.

I swear, sometimes I think the club's plan really isn't to fire Trembley.

Sometimes I think the plan is just to drive him crazy. Having one more reliever limp into the trainer's room might just do it.

"The timing of it couldn't come at a worse time for us," Trembley said Sunday. " I know this: What you don't need is another guy in the bullpen who throws one inning. You need someone who can give you multiple innings."

But that wasn't Uehara — not by a long shot.

In Texas last week, he seemed gassed after a 30-pitch outing in the Orioles' 4-3 loss to the Rangers, constantly taking his hat off and wiping his forehead on a night that wasn't that hot or humid.

Privately, the Orioles have expressed bafflement at Koji's lack of stamina and physical conditioning.

And they seem equally puzzled about his brittleness, although that can come with the territory when you're 35.

All in all, it wasn't what Trembley expected when the Orioles signed the guy, that's for sure.

"I really didn't have an inclination one way or the other" of what to expect, Trembley said. "All I knew was his history, and he pitched very well. That's what my expectation was, and that's what everyone's expectation was.

"He had pitched in top-flight games, international games, championship venues in Japan. He'd been Cy Young, an All-Star, he'd been the creme of the creme. I expected he'd give us innings."

But it didn't work out that way.

In fact, it didn't work out at all.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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