Fatigued Koji Uehara working through change in opponents’ attack plan
|07.02.14 at 12:30 am ET|
Even Koji Uehara is human.
A little under two weeks after his 100th appearance as a member of the Red Sox, a span in which he posted a 0.97 ERA, a 0.62 WHIP, a .176 opponent on-base percentage, 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings, 13 walks and 139 strikeouts in 102 innings pitched, Uehara has labored slightly more in his recent appearances out of the bullpen. In his last six appearances heading into Tuesday, the closer had allowed three home runs, three runs and five hits in six innings pitched.
Despite Uehara’s recent struggles, the Red Sox continue to operate on the assumption that a surgically efficient inning is close at hand when “Sandstorm” by Darude ripples across the Fenway Park public address system and Uehara starts his slow jog out of the bullpen.
Tuesday was not one of those days for Uehara.
With a 1-1 game against the Cubs going into the top of the ninth inning, Red Sox manager John Farrell called on Uehara to keep the game tied. Instead, first baseman Anthony Rizzo attacked a first-pitch splitter and smacked the ball into center field. A Starlin Castro double to left field on a 3-2 splitter suddenly put runners at second and third with no outs.
With the go-ahead run just 90 feet away, third baseman Luis Valbuena worked the count to 3-2 before lofting a fly ball on an 82 mph splitter to right fielder Mookie Betts, a ball hit deep enough to allow Rizzo to touch home and give the Cubs a 2-1 lead that would stand as the final score.
Uehara said that his splitter was not as crisp as it has been in the past, adding that “a little bit of fatigue” has played a role in his recent struggles.
Despite Uehara’s comments, catcher A.J. Pierzynski said that he did not notice a marked decrease in quality in the hurler’s fastball and splitter.
“The stuff looks the same,” Pierzynski said. “They hit a couple of pretty good pitches. That’s it. Those things happen. He’s been pretty darn good all year, so for him to give up a run, those things happen.”
Farrell said that he has seen a change in how opponents have attacked Uehara as of late.
“A number of early swings,” Farrell said. “When [Uehara]‘s given up some base hits, it’s been on [the] first or second pitch where he’s trying to get a strike. It’s not the true put-away split. That was the case with Rizzo tonight and I thought Castro laid off some pretty good pitches to get deep into that count and then gets one up in the strike zone for the double. It’s been more in the early counts where we’ve seen some of the damage take place.”
Uehara has noticed the change in approach from the opponents at the plate and says that adjustments will need to be made. Pierzynski says that the aggressive approach against Uehara comes with the righty’s two-pitch approach to attacking hitters.
“Everyone knows that Koji throws fastball and split pretty much,” Pierzynski said. “If he makes a pitch, he gets those guys out. It’s not like he’s been getting crushed all over the yard. He got a bunch of saves on the road trip. He threw the ball fine. Rizzo hit a good pitch. Castro hit a pretty good pitch and then Valbuena had a good at-bat and hit one just far enough.”
Uehara said that there is a clear answer to his issues with fatigue.
“I probably need to get younger,” he chuckled initially. “Just get some sleep and keep my body rhythm. Eat well, and I think it comes down to the basics.”
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