The last time Koji Uehara was around the Orioles, he was saying tearful goodbyes in the visitor's clubhouse at Yankee Stadium last July.
This week, Uehara was back at Camden Yards, this time with the Texas Rangers, the club that acquired him from the Orioles for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter at the nonwaiver trade deadline.
There were some hugs and handshakes this week, but Uehara said, he is a Ranger now.
Uehara, the former Japanese star who spent his first 21/2 big league seasons in Baltimore, didn't fare as well in two months in Texas.
A shutdown reliever with the Orioles in 2010 and 2011, Uehara was 1-2 with a 4.00 ERA in 22 games with Texas in 2011. The right-hander allowed five homers in 18 regular-season innings, three more in the postseason and was left off the Rangers' World Series roster.
"Right after I got traded, I'd have to say I was struggling a little bit," Uehara said this week through interpreter Jiwon Bang. "But now, at the end of the day, I am still being able to play baseball. That's important."
Uehara and his family still have a house in Baltimore, and he said his family chooses to live here because of the educational opportunities for his 6-year-old son.
"My family thinks strongly about my kid's education," he said. "So that comes first."
There was talk this offseason that the Orioles might be interested in reacquiring Uehara, since he didn't necessarily have a role with the Rangers and the Orioles needed bullpen help. It never materialized.
"I don't believe in rumors, so until it is official, I can't believe [rumors] that are going on," he said.
He downplayed his interest in returning to the Orioles.
"That's not my decision to make. I would play for anyone," he said. "Whoever wants me."
Uehara, 37, seems to be returning to the form that allowed him to dominate in the second half of 2010 — when he had 13 saves — and in the first four months of 2011, when he posted a 1.80 ERA for the Orioles.
In 10 games with the Rangers this season, Uehara has allowed just two runs on five hits in 10 innings while striking out 11. He hasn't walked anyone. He pitched a scoreless inning against the Orioles on Tuesday, but his streak of 18 consecutive batters retired was broken when Robert Andino singled against him in the seventh.
"I am getting there," he said. "Feeling better."
Uehara said he still checks Orioles box scores frequently and keeps in contact with some former teammates through email. He also acted as an impromptu adviser to Tsuyoshi Wada, speaking to the Japanese lefty after he signed a two-year deal with the Orioles in December.
"Just [talked about] off the field stuff," Uehara said, "that my wife and family are here. If they needed any help, we would be glad to help them out."
Wada never moved to Baltimore. He had been in extended spring in Sarasota, Fla., for much of the past two months and will have season-ending elbow ligament surgery Friday. Uehara said he called Wada when he heard the news and "he sounded disappointed."
Willis drops grievance
Left-hander Dontrelle Willis has dropped his grievance against the Orioles and will return to the organization Thursday, his agent confirmed.
Willis, the 2003 National League Rookie of the Year and 2005 NL Cy Young Award runner-up, was signed by the Orioles to a minor league deal during spring training to be a situational left-handed reliever. Two weeks ago, he left Triple-A Norfolk, saying he had been given his release, but the Orioles contended that was never the case and he left without the club's permission.
They placed him on the minor league restricted list — with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette saying repeatedly that Willis was welcome back if he wanted to pitch.
The sides have finally come to an agreement. Willis will be used as a starting pitcher, previously a point of contention between the pitcher and the club, and Willis has dropped the grievance.
Willis will report to the Orioles' extended spring training team in Sarasota to build his arm strength for a starting role, and he'll eventually report back to Norfolk, his agent, Matt Sosnick, said.
"They reached out to Dontrelle personally a couple times," Sosnick said. "The whole thing took too long. I still don't understand it."
Willis was 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA in three relief appearances over 32/3 innings for the Tides before leaving the team.
Once he gets to Norfolk, Willis will join a crowded rotation that includes Joel Pineiro, Chris Tillman, Jason Berken, Brad Bergesen and Steve Johnson (St. Paul's). The Orioles are likely to call up another Norfolk starter, left-hander Dana Eveland, to start Friday's home game against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Around the horn
Heading into Thursday's doubleheader, the Orioles have lost seven straight to the Rangers. The best the Orioles can do against Texas at Camden Yards this year is 2-2. The Orioles haven't had a winning record at home against the Rangers since going 4-0 in 2004. … Lefty Zach Britton (shoulder) is scheduled to throw between 45 and 50 pitches Thursday in an extended spring game in Sarasota. … Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy has three straight multi-hit games and is 10-for-16 in that span, raising his average from .187 to .244. … Josh Hamilton's eight RBIs on Tuesday were the most by an opponent against the Orioles since the Oakland Athletics' Eric Chavez had eight Aug. 30, 2001.
Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this article.
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