Uehara key to revitalized O's bullpen

Albers, Johnson also help provide relief against Yankees

September 06, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

NEW YORK — — As Koji Uehara walked through the visiting clubhouse Monday morning, several of his teammates serenaded him with chants of "Koji, Koji, Koji," copying the fans at Camden Yards Sunday while the reliever was converting a one-run save opportunity against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Of course, there was no such chant Monday in the Orioles' 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees, but Uehara did silence 46,103 at Yankee Stadium by striking out two of the three hitters that he faced in a perfect ninth inning. Uehara converted his seventh save in as many opportunities and highlighted what was a strong afternoon for the Orioles bullpen.

In a place where many Orioles relievers before them had melted down, Matt Albers, Jim Johnson and Uehara walked two but didn't allow a hit in three scoreless innings behind starter Brian Matusz.

"You get to the seventh inning and it's, 'How can we get nine outs there before they score?' " Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I thought Albers had a great outing. He had a live fastball and he trusted it for the most part, except for the walk. … The way Koji has been pitching and all of those guys, it's not smoke and mirrors."

Albers allowed a leadoff walk to Lance Berkman and then struck out Brett Gardner and got Derek Jeter to ground out after catcher Matt Wieters had thrown out pinch runner Greg Golson trying to steal.

Johnson, who allowed a go-ahead, two-run homer to the Rays' B.J. Upton on Sunday, went through the heart of the Yankees order, retiring Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira. After walking Alex Rodriguez, he struck out Robinson Cano on a changeup to end the inning.

Uehara then needed just 15 pitches to dispose of Curtis Granderson, Jorge Posada and pinch hitter Colin Curtis.

"Ever since everybody came back healthy, the back of our bullpen has been very good, and I think that's what we expected coming into the year," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "With JJ, and [Mike Gonzalez] and Koji, I think that's really what everybody was looking for and when things started to fall into place, that's what we've seen."

Uehara has been the key, as he's saved seven of the Orioles' 10 wins and possesses a 1.44 ERA in his past 22 appearances.

"Obviously, the team is playing well and I get to pitch in a good situation so that's motivating, yes," Uehara said through his interpreter, Jiwon Bang.

Putting them to the test

Seeking to continue and even accelerate the development of some of their more promising prospects, the Orioles are encouraging several of their minor leaguers to play winter ball out of the country this offseason.

"Our attitude is to make the players understand that they need to earn a spot on this club, and in order to do that, some of them are going to need to play winter ball to work on their deficiencies," Orioles director of player development John Stockstill said. "What we're trying to do is give them the opportunity in the best places in the world to do that."

Stockstill has been meeting with the minor leaguers over the past couple of weeks and informing them of their winter ball options. Double-A first baseman Joe Mahoney, one of the frontrunners to win the Brooks Robinson Award as the organization's Minor League Player of the Year, is planning on playing winter ball in Venezuela, and he could be joined there by Triple-A outfielder Matt Angle.

"The attitude that you want to cultivate is [that] they better be prepared to earn their way," Stockstill said. "This club is looking for people to take jobs. We're trying to give our players the understanding that they are responsible for their own careers and they have to earn their spot. We have several players knocking on the door, so take the step to give yourself a chance to earn a Major League job next year."

Jones still out

Despite taking batting practice for a second straight day and saying that he was ready to play, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was held out of the starting lineup for the 10th time in the past 12 games.

"I'm hoping that this is the day he's mad at me," Showalter said.

Jones hasn't played since Sept. 1, and has only seven at-bats since he was hit in the back of his left shoulder by a fastball from Chicago White Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd Aug. 24. He has felt significantly better since getting a cortisone shot last Thursday, and Jones is hopeful that he'll return to the lineup on Tuesday.

"I want to play. I feel like I'm ready, but I have to go out and do all the stuff on the field, everything that they are doing," Jones said. "No matter how good I feel, I still have to go out there and hit live pitching and really put an impact on the ball. It [stinks], but I just have to do it."

Hernandez, Viola moving up

The Orioles will add two more arms to its bullpen in the next couple of days as they will activate David Hernandez from the disabled list, and recall left-hander Pedro Viola from Double-A Bowie.

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