The Red Sox have been fortunate in avoiding any major injuries this spring. However, between minor injuries to Rusney Castillo (oblique strain), Joe Kelly (bicep tightness), Christian Vazquez (elbow soreness), and now Koji Uehara (hamstring strain), those small ailments are beginning to pile up.
Rumors that Uehara might be on track to miss Opening Day have begun to surface, following a hamstring strain during pre-game warmups against the Braves. According to Uehara and manager John Farrell, the injury isn’t a particularly serious one, but they will be prudent and careful this early in the season.
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If Uehara is forced to begin the season on the disabled list, it could be a significant loss for the Red Sox. The Red Sox bullpen lacks a ton of depth and the absence of Uehara, who is coming off two dominant seasons as Boston’s closer, leaves much of the back end of the ‘pen up in the air.
Edward Mujica and Junichi Tazawa would likely be the top two candidates to serve as surrogate closers for the Red Sox, with Farrell likely to lean towards Mujica given his prior closing experience. Either one would likely be an adequate closer, but moving one to the closer role would subtract a fair amount of depth in the bullpen, leaving just one of Mujica or Tazawa, Anthony Varvaro, and potentially reclamation project Alexi Ogando as legitimate setup men.
While this would cast some doubt over the quality of Boston’s relief corps, the Red Sox certainly don’t want to work Uehara too hard. He faltered towards the end of last season due to a combination of a heavy workload and his age, posting a 5.74 ERA in August and September and allowing 4 home runs in a 15.2 inning span, eventually losing his job to Mujica. A slightly later start to the season could help Uehara begin the season more rested and ready for the rigors of a full season, so although injuries are never a good sign, this could be a blessing in disguise.