Matt Harrison had pitched a brilliant game, but even though he only needed one more out for the complete game, he had allowed two base runners in the inning and was at 119 pitches. Ron Washington made his way to the mound and made the call, however it was not any of the normal names he calls in a one run game with the tying run at third base. He did not ask for Joe Nathan, Alexi Ogando or Mike Adams. He asked for Koji Uehara. There were plenty of reasons that the other three were not summoned, but this was also a sign of trust. This was Washington showing that Uehara was officially back.
Uehara came in to face the left-handed hitting Michael Saunders and needed just five pitches to get the job done. He threw Saunders four of those patented splits that have been known to give left-handed hitters nightmares, mixed in with one two-seam fastball and the game was done.
It was almost a year ago that Uehara was left off of the World Series roster. At that time he had lost the fans confidence, the organizations confidence and almost all signs pointed to him losing confidence in himself. He was not pitching with the bounce in his step that was so common and the split was not diving in on lefties as had been just as common.
He had been lights out for the Orioles all season long in 2011 and then arrived in Texas on July 30th. He arrived with a 1.72 ERA in 45 innings for the Orioles, but added 22 appearances and 18 innings with a 4.00 ERA for the Rangers. Everyone said it was fatigue and eventually the Rangers would see the real Uehara. The Rangers almost did not even get that chance as they tried to trade him multiple times.
Spring training came and was fairly similar as he struggled and could not get his split working in the dry Arizona air. The Rangers wanted to move him again, but in reality there was not a market. The only option was for him to prove himself once again.
Things have finally started to change and Uehara has now allowed runs in only one of his 10 appearances since coming off of the disabled list. He is not just someone eating an inning here or there when Joe Nathan needs an extra day of rest or Mike Adams is down with a tight trapezius muscle, he is dominating hitters and specifically the left-handed hitters that caused Jon Daniels to go after him a year ago.
A year ago the Rangers acquired both Uehara and Mike Adams because of their success as setup men and their ability to get both righties and lefties out. The Rangers were so confident in that, that they released the left-handed Arthur Rhodes who had struggled in Texas. Due to Uehara's struggles, they eventually had to acquire Mike Gonzalez at the end of August just to have another lefty to go along with Darren Oliver in the Rangers' bullpen.
This year is turning out to be quite different. Uehara spent all of July along with most of May and June on the disabled list with a lat strain. He has only thrown 29.1 innings this season and is fresh and ready to go.
The Rangers bullpen has not looked as solid over the past few weeks as it did early in the year, but the re-emergence of Uehara along with the return of Robbie Ross should do wonders. No matter how you look at the situation as the clock inches closer towards October, this is a bullpen that is much stronger than a year ago. They may not have Neftali Feliz this year, but a rested Uehara, Ross and Joe Nathan are all critical pieces that were not there a year ago and will provide needed depth in the postseason.
Jon Daniels normally has both long and short-term plans in mind when he makes moves and Uehara was no different. He specifically went after him and Adams because they would be under team control for 2011 and 2012. He planned on the Rangers playing October baseball both of those years and he wanted those guys to be a part of all of it. It looked like Uehara might not work out that way as he was rumored multiple times to be in possible deals, however here we are a full year later and the plans of Jon Daniels are as clear today as they were on June 30, 2011. The road might have bumpy along the way, but end destination is still completely in sight and Uehara is just as important today as he was then.
John Bowman is a lifelong baseball and Texas Rangers fan that loves to ponder the deeper aspects of the game. Some of his first baseball memories involve Arlington Stadium nachos, Charlie Hough's knuckleball, dirt on Pete Incaviglia's uniform and the voices of Mark Holtz and Eric Nadel as he fell asleep.
- Sports & Recreation
- Koji Uehara
- Mike Adams
- Joe Nathan