Koji Uehara had us spoiled. Once he took over the Red Sox closer’s job last June he was nearly lights-out.
That has not been the case recently. In his last three games, spanning 2 2/3 innings he is 0-1 with one save, giving up five hits, including two home runs. The save came Tuesday against the Rays when he needed just three pitches for a strikeout and a one-out save.
Overall, Uehara is 0-1 with a 1.69 ERA, giving up 10 hits and a walk with two home runs and 17 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings.
But in the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader against the Rays he gave up a go-ahead home run to Yunel Escobar leading off the ninth in what would prove to be the winning run as the Rays hung on for a 6-5 win and a sweep of the twin bill. Before that, Escobar had been 0-for-11 with a strikeout against Uehara.
Uehara took the loss, his first in the regular season since Sept. 17, 2013, against the Orioles. The ninth-inning home run he gave up to Escobar was just his fourth allowed at Fenway since joining the Sox, and first since giving up a homer to Jose Bautista on June 30, 2013.
“I just left the ball up,” Uehara said through a translator.
“It happens every year, April, May. I think even last year I didn’t pitch that well.”
He is correct to some extent. Over his career, his 1.022 WHIP in May is the highest for any month, as is his 3.09 April ERA. His 8.9 strikeouts-per-nine in April is his lowest, and his .214 opponents’ average in May is second-highest.
But, Uehara put a scare into the Sox last month, when he missed seven games in April with a sore shoulder, returning to Boston during the team’s road trip to New York and Chicago to be checked. An MRI revealed no structural damage, and he returned to game action on April 17 in Chicago.
In six games since then, spanning 5 2/3 innings, he has allowed seven hits, two home runs, a walk, and 10 strikeouts, for a 3.18 ERA. Respectable, but not the lights-out fashion with which he spoiled the Sox last season.
Asked if he is able to identify anything he needs to work on, Uehara replied:
“I think I’m just pounding the strike zone too much.”
He insists he is healthy.
“Physically I’m fine,” he said. “If it wasn’t feeling physically fine, I wouldn’t be pitching.”
“Once that spell of three or four days that we stayed away from him he’s come back and pitched physically fine,” manager John Farrell said. “It was a split that stayed up over the plate that Escobar hit out.”