As terrific as Koji Uehara has been during his time in America, he's generally been a high-maintenance player. He's only passed the 70-inning mark once (last year), and sometimes he's not best suited for work on consecutive days. I'm not picking on the guy – he's one of my favorite watches in the game, and Uehara was baseball's most dominant reliever last year (all through the championship run). But when a pitcher turns 39, there's only so much we can realistically expect.
So when the Red Sox say Uehara has a "minor" shoulder stiffness, I'm not going to take it in stride. It's time for a Boston bullpen audit.
Boston had a push-button save chance ready to go in Friday's 4-2 victory at New York, but Uehara wasn't the man selected. He felt stiffness during his long-toss session before the game and the club decided to keep him out for precautionary reasons. According to respected beat writer Sean McAdam, Uehara won't be available Saturday.
The best non-Uehara reliever in Boston's bullpen is probably Junichi Tazawa, another Japanese ace. He's worked 5.2 scoreless innings this year, with zero walks and eight strikeouts, and he was reliable all through 2013 (3.16 ERA, six strikeouts for every walk). He posted four outs (over the seventh and eighth innings) to support Friday's win. The Tokyo Police Club is awfully hard to beat.
But it's not clear if Tazawa would get a shot to close in the event Uehara needed an extended break. Journeyman Edward Mujica got the handshake call Friday, setting down the Yanks with a cozy 1-2-3 inning (9-of-13 strikes, one punchout). Mujica was a mostly-reliable closer in St. Louis last year, though he collapsed late (enter Trevor Rosenthal). He's had one terrible outing this year (four runs against Milwaukee) and three effective ones.
Most fantasy players are chasing the save more than anything else when it comes to relief pitchers, which is why Mujica currently trades at 37 percent and Tazawa is only at 10 percent. In this case, I'm going to side with the better skills (Tazawa); he's good enough to own in a lot of formats even if he's not closing. Mind you, it's plausible John Farrell might keep Tazawa as the lockdown bridge guy. Maybe Mujica's closing experience factors into the club's contingency plan. Perhaps Mujica's late-2013 slump should be excused; maybe he's really the guy we saw over the opening 4-5 months. Like most bullpen situations, it's mostly about rhetorical questions and what's in your gut. Farrell has no obligation or incentive to show us his detailed notes.
Place your bets, bullpen detectives. Share your game plan in the comments.
• The CC Sabathia story is fast approaching rerun status, and most of this bullet will be a review. He was terrific during most of his Friday turn, but one bad inning (four runs, two homers) did him in. He's sitting on a 6.63 ERA for the year, despite a sparking K/BB rate (21 whiffs, just three walks).
Sabathia's velocity has taken a much-discussed tumble over the last few seasons (he's in the high 80s this season), which probably explains the home-run problems that are killing him. He's given up five taters in his three 2014 starts, and his HR/FB rate was a bloated problem in 2012 and 2013, too. Some statheads will largely excuse Sabathia for the gopheritis, clinging to xFIP methodology, but I hate giving pitchers a pass for a persistent meatball problem. (If you want a therapeutic "It's Not Your Fault" hug, go rent Good Will Hunting again.)
Even in a deeper mixed leagues, I'm not interested in Sabathia – even if the entry cost is zero. Sabathia's experience and control will allow him to be effective some of the time, but when he misses with his spots at his current rate of speed, the hitters have a good chance to reach the seats. And look at all the homer-friendly stadiums (and dangerous lineups) he has to navigate on a regular basis. Where is the easy matchup? Why run uphill when you don't have to?
The frame is a little different in San Francisco, where Tim Lincecum at least has some big parks and friendly opponents to consider. But he's another pitcher I'm not excusing for a nagging home-run problem (we tackled that in detail over here). If I ran the Giants, I'd probably shift Lincecum back into a relief role. Remember how dominant he was through the 2012 playoffs? That can happen again. Heck, so many lockdown relievers are born from talented-but-flawed starters who didn't fit the rotation any more. Take a sad song and make it better.
I realize a lot of readers are part the saturation point with Sabathia and Lincecum, so I'll leave it be for a while. You know where I stand. It's about the numbers, not the names.
• I don't want to come down too hard on Jose Veras for his blown save Friday at St. Louis; he probably struck out Matt Carpenter on a critical 2-2 pitch, but didn't get the call (one pitch later, the game was tied). That said, teams react to ninth inning shenanigans (Veras has been terrible this year), and the Cubs have done so as well. Manager Rick Renteria is giving Veras a timeout at closer, which means Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon (and others) are jostling for position. If I had to take a guess on someone in the Northside bullpen, I'd go with Strop. He's available in 86 percent of Yahoo leagues.
• Remember a week ago, when Terry Collins said he was ready to make a commitment to Lucas Duda as the New York first basemen? Duda has made four starts in seven games since then. Ike Davis played twice in that mix, and Josh Satin drew the assignment (against a lefty) in Friday's game.
Duda's 5-for-19 over the stretch, with a walk and two homers (both a week ago). He's struck out eight times. You'd like to see more contact, sure, but most of all, I'd like to see Collins make a decision and stick with it. No player wants to be jerked in and out of the lineup, especially a younger player who's trying to make his mark in The Show. If you're a fan of any team not named "Mets," be glad Terry Collins isn't skippering your ship tonight.
• If you're looking ahead to Sunday and have streaming on your mind, here's a look at some pitchers I like: Tim Hudson at home against Colorado; Tyson Ross back at the sandbox against Detroit; strike-throwing machine Kyle Lohse hosting Pittsburgh (which might be without Andrew McCutchen); underrated lefty Jose Quintana at home against Cleveland; and post-hype kid Martin Perez at home versus Houston. If you need to take a longshot, perhaps Charlie Morton (at Milwaukee) or Kyle Kendrick (versus Miami) are worth a toss of the dice.