The 2013 Boston Red Sox have been in first place for almost the entire season and have managed to stay there despite crucial injuries to some key players. This, in part, is due to the depth that this team has where they have been able to handle these situations and not only survive, but thrive. One player in particular stands out as someone who stepped in due to injuries and not only has handled the job very well, but has actually been outstanding. So outstanding that the Red Sox would not be in first place without him. That player is the closer Koji Uehara.
Uehara was originally signed during the offseason to serve as bullpen depth. He started the season as the primary setup man and was lights out from the beginning. On Opening Day against the New York Yankees, he retired the side on 10 pitches. That is about as efficient as you can get and has continued throughout the season. He served the role very nicely of the seventh inning stopper but was still considered depth with Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both available and with a lot of closer experience. Then Hanrahan ended up having Tommy John surgery and not long after, Bailey went down with a shoulder injury and was out for the season. Uehara was then named the closer towards the end of June and has been nothing short of brilliant since then.
His performance has been so dominating, he was even a candidate for the Final Vote of the MLB All-Star team. He didn’t win but it shows how highly regarded his performance has been this season. Manager John Farrell is very careful about how he uses him. Uehara is 38 years old, after all. If he warms up in the bullpen, he comes in the game. No getting up and sitting down and wasting energy. Uehara also seems to be used in crucial situations, not a situation where there is no save. This usage has helped Uehara, it seems because he has been absolutely dominating recently, having allowed one earned run in 13 1/3 innings with 12 saves since becoming the closer. There was a stretch where batters had 10 hits in a hundred at-bats. That has to be a great feeling, having a lead going into the ninth inning and feeling confident that it will be held. Knowing that he is only coming in for the ninth inning has to be helping Uehara prepare better and plan accordingly.
In terms of delivery and usage, he reminds me of Dennis Eckersley, the Hall of Fame closer for the Oakland Athletics. Eckersley was used very judiciously and it paid off. The same could hold true for Uehara. Every successful team has to have a closer that can shut the door. Boston seems to have stumbled on theirs and it has worked out so far, better than they could have hoped. Where would Boston be without him right now? That’s why he is their MVP at the moment.
No Jonathan Papelbon part two, Uehara will work just fine, thank you.