O's reliever Uehara settles into role

It's taken 4 months for Koji Uehara to get comfortable, but it's proven a good fit

  • Nick Markakis receives congratulations from the Orioles dugout, including Felix Pie, Cesar Izturis and Alfredo Simon. Markakis scored the game-winning run in the 10th against the Chicago White Sox.
Nick Markakis receives congratulations from the Orioles dugout,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
August 14, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — — The Orioles' plan before the season began was to pitch Koji Uehara late in games, allow him to face both left-handed and right-handed hitters, and occasionally use him for multi-inning outings.

It's taken about four months for Uehara to settle in that role, but it's proven to be a good fit. Not experiencing any problems with his right elbow, the right-hander has posted an 0.61 ERA and struck out 15 in his last 12 appearances spanning 14 2/3 innings. He threw two shutout innings and retired six of the seven hitters that he faced in the Orioles' 5-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday and he's now strung together 6 2/3 scoreless innings.

"He's been an extremely valuable guy," said Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz. "I even said earlier in the year that he's going to be the key for us because he can do a lot of things. He can turn a guy around, he can face left-handers. He's very efficient with his pitches and that's huge. He can throw a seven or eight-pitch inning and he goes right back out. He doesn't waste his bullets. He gets ready quick in the bullpen. He's ready as fast as anybody I've ever had."

Uehara, 35, said the reason that he's been so effective is simple: he finally feels healthy. After signing a two-year, $10 million deal with the Orioles in January 2009, Uehara made just 12 starts for the club and spent two long stints on the disabled list, first with a strained hamstring and then right elbow tendinitis. He started this season on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain and after returning, he made just six appearances before again being shut down with a right forearm strain.

Since being activated on June 27, Uehara has pitched in 15 games and not given up any runs in 12 of them. He's also not allowed any of the 10 runners that he has inherited to score.

"He's proven to me now that he's really healthy," Kranitz said. "He's very efficient and he knows himself. To me, he looks so much more comfortable than he ever has at any time in his two years here. I know that he needed to come back and prove what he could do in this league. We felt all along that he could be successful here. It's just staying healthy and finding the right place for him."

Uehara will be a free agent after the season and he's given no indication on whether he plans to stay in the Major Leagues, return to Japan or even keep playing. However, if Uehara remains healthy, there certainly figures to be interest in his services, both from the Orioles and other clubs.

"I don't really know because it's not my decision," Uehara said through translator, Jiwon Bang, when asked about next season. "The reason I'm pitching is because of right now, not for next year."

Scott leaving his mark

Orioles manager Buck Showalter has learned plenty about his new players in his less than two weeks on the job. One of his first lessons was to brace himself when Luke Scott comes back to the dugout after hitting a home run.

"You got to prepare yourself for the hand slap," Showalter said. "It's not one of those feathery [ones]. It's a retractable hand and you want to keep it. That's something that we have to look out for injuries. We don't want him to injure any of his teammates. That's the one bad thing about him being on a streak. You might get somebody's hand broken here. He plays with his emotions on his sleeve. There's a lot of 'want to' there."

Since July 20, Scott has 10 home runs, tying him with the Florida Marlins' Dan Uggla for second most in the majors since that day. The Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista has 11 during that span. Entering today's game, Scott was batting .391 (18-for-46) with eight runs, three doubles, five homers and 11 RBIs in 11 games this month.

"His bat is making a lot of loud noises," Showalter said. "His contact-to-damage ratio is pretty good."

No harm, no foul

Left fielder Felix Pie was able to laugh and smile about it later. After all, his misplay on Friday didn't cost his team any runs because the next batter (Willy Aybar) hit a ball into the left center-field gap that Pie was able to run down just in front of the wall for the final out of the sixth.

It was nice redemption for Pie, who overran Matt Joyce's flyball and then fell down, turning the easy out into a triple.

"I didn't lose it. I ran too hard and passed the ball," said Pie, enjoying a laugh at his own expense. "I tried to turn around and that's what happened. I fell down. That's an easy out and I passed it."

Pie made seven putouts in left field on Friday and very few of them looked routine as he clearly struggled to pick up the ball under the white dome at Tropicana Field. On one ball out to left, he went to his knees before making the catch. On another just in front of the wall, he did a little pirouette before hauling it in.

"Let me tell you something," Pie said to a group of reporters gathered around his locker. "That fly ball to left field is terrible, [but] you have to catch it."

Around the horn

Adam Jones' three-run homer in the third inning Saturday made him 6-for-10 with three homers and seven RBIs against Andy Sonnanstine. … With their three stolen bases in the first two innings today, the Orioles already had more steals than they had in any game this year … As of Saturday afternoon, the Orioles had made no progress in signing third overall pick Manny Machado. They have until midnight Monday to agree to terms or they lose his rights … Shortstop Mychal Givens, the Orioles' second-round selection in the 2009 draft, is expected to return to game action in about a week. He hasn't played for Single-A Delmarva since June 1 after having surgery on his left thumb.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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