Relief pitcher Koji Uehara assumes Orioles closer role

Snyder goes 0-for3 in first big league start

September 12, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

Detroit — — Not wanting to take any chances with a 35-year-old who has an extensive injury history, there was a time earlier this season when the Orioles wouldn't pitch Koji Uehara on back-to-back days.

But not only has Uehara's role changed — from setup man to closer — but so has his workload. Uehara pitched in six of his team's past eight games before he was given the afternoon off in the Orioles' 6-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers today.

With Uehara unavailable, Orioles manager Buck Showalter never had to tip his hand on whom he would have used in a save situation because the Tigers scored five times in the eighth inning to turn a one-run deficit into a four-run lead.

But there is no ambiguity as to who is the Orioles' closer. Uehara has gotten the Orioles' last 10 save opportunities, converting nine of them, including the first two games of the Tigers' series. Showalter acknowledged that the club has watched the Japanese right-hander closely not only to make sure that he is OK physically, but to see how he responds to the workload in case the Orioles decide that they want to resign the pending free agent.

"I'm not going to broadcast his availability day-to-day, but it's also part of the evaluation as you go into next year and see what your options are at different spots on your pitching staff. Can he do things physically?," Showalter said. "That's part of it, getting him out there and being able to kind of copy the same surroundings that he would have during the season next year depending on what [president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail] and everybody decides to do with him.

"It's good to put him in these positions and see him come back, pitch well and maintain his stuff. That's good to see. Now whether it can happen for six, seven months, I don't think anyone can answer that."

Uehara, who has had four stints on the disabled list in two seasons for the Orioles, missing time with both elbow and hamstring issues, said through interpreter Jiwon Bang that he feels fine physically.

"I'm making sure that I'm prepared every day and I'm doing pretty much the same routine," Uehara said. "Whenever they want me to be out there, I'll go."

Still, he appeared to be a little tired during his two-run save Friday. Several of his fastballs were clocked in the mid 80s and he uncharacteristically fell behind two batters. But that didn't stop him from working a perfect ninth and striking out two of the three hitters that he faced.

"We talk everyday to make sure he's feeling OK," said pitching coach Rick Kranitz. "He's a veteran that knows his body as well as anybody. The good thing about him is he doesn't waste anything in the bullpen. He throws eight or 10 pitches and he's ready to go. I'm comfortable in trusting what he tells me about how he's doing."

Snyder gets his shot

The way Showalter sees it, rookie first baseman Brandon Snyder is going to have to face the big boys, sooner or later. So what better time for Snyder to get his first big league start than with Tigers ace Justin Verlander on the mound.

Snyder went 0-for-3, popping out in his first at-bat, getting robbed of a single on a diving play by Tigers second baseman Will Rhymes in his second and then striking out in his third.

"Somebody said, 'Well, it's Verlander, it's [CC] Sabathia, it's [A.J.] Burnett or whoever.' Well, it's the big leagues," Showalter said. "There's good pitching everywhere and it's part of it. It's good for him to be exposed to it and it's good for us to be exposed to him."

Snyder, who had played one inning defensively in Friday's series opener, acknowledged that he was a little nervous, especially facing Verlander, whom he had watched pitch at Old Dominion when he was in high school player in Virginia.

"Getting to have that first opportunity off him was definitely special," said Snyder. "I'll always remember getting a chance to play in this game. Obviously, the outcome isn't exactly what we wanted, but it was a good experience overall."

Feeling the hot corner

It was a rough road trip for rookie third baseman Josh Bell, who was left with a sore left hand trying to catch Alex Rodriguez's line drive on Tuesday, and then hurt his right hand on Saturday trying to field a hard grounder from Miguel Cabrera.

"The ball definitely comes off the bat different up here," Bell said. "I think I've seen the five hardest balls that I've ever seen in my career playing baseball. I guess I'm going to have to play deeper, maybe [in] left field.

X-rays taken on Bell's right hand this morning came back negative, but he was held out of the lineup in the series finale. He was available to play.

Around the horn

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