Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara had been called upon a good deal in recent days, working four out of five nights, garnering a day off for the 39-year-old closer.
With Uehara unavailable for Wednesday afternoon’s contest with the Cincinnati Reds, it gave Red Sox manager John Farrell the opportunity to reward reliever Edward Mujica for great pitching of late, bringing him out for the ninth inning with the Sox clinging to a one-run lead. While it wasn’t the cleanest effort — Mujica allowed hits to the first two batters of the inning — he returned the favor for Farrell, closing the door and giving the Red Sox the two-game sweep in Cincinnati.
The save opportunity — Mujica’s fourth of the 2014 season — was an acknowledgment of strong work of late.
Originally brought in during the offseason to serve the very role he served Wednesday — give the Red Sox a viable alternative for Uehara should he underperform or be overworked — Mujica struggled through much of the first half of the season. The struggles of the 30-year-old, in addition to the continued success of Junichi Tazawa and Andrew Miller, combined with the emergence of Burke Badenhop, pushed Mujica down the totem pole of the Red Sox bullpen. Before long, Mujica was only seen in low-leverage situations.
But as time has gone on, things have changed — as they always seem to during the long journey of an MLB season. Miller was traded to the Baltimore Orioles. Tazawa and Badenhop became less effective. While still good, the two were just not as great as the first couple of months of the season. Meanwhile, Mujica has pitched his way into a bigger role.
Going back to June 6, Mujica has made 24 appearances, allowing just five earned runs and has struck out 16 batters compared to two walks over 23 innings. Since coming back from the All-Star break, Mujica has allowed just one run on six hits and a walk over 8 1/3 innings. Of the 11 appearances he’s made, eight have come with the deficit being two runs or lower. In his last four outings, the Red Sox have been tied, ahead two, ahead one and ahead one, respectively.
Mujica has looked more like the pitcher the Red Sox thought they were getting during the winter — a guy who saved 37 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013, serving as the anchor of the bullpen that won the NL Pennant for much of the season.
It wasn’t Mujica’s best performance on Wednesday, but it was a spot that he pitched his way into. An outing that he had earned.