Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
When the Red Sox signed Koji Uehara to a 1-year, $4.25 million deal prior to the 2013 season they expected him to be a middle reliever, until injuries to Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan unexpectedly thrust him into the closer role. As it turned out, that was the best thing that could have happened for that Red Sox team.
Uehara was brilliant in his first year in Boston, collecting 21 saves and posting a spectacular 1.09 ERA. Between July 9 and September 17, Uehara retired a franchise record 37 consecutive batters and would finish the season with a 0.56 WHIP to set a major league record for pitchers with a minimum of 50 innings pitched.
He was also outstanding in the postseason, allowing only 1 run in 13.2 innings during Boston’s run to a World Series title in 2013. Uehara collected 7 saves during that postseason and was named MVP of the ALCS.
While it’s unreasonable to expect those historic numbers again, Uehara has remained one of the game’s best relievers when healthy. Unfortunately this past season did not end that way, with Uehara finishing the year on the disabled list with a fractured wrist. The veteran will turn 41 years old next season and will need to have his innings managed more carefully. With Craig Kimbrel being brought in to take over in the ninth inning, Uehara will be counted on to handle the set-up role he was originally brought here for.
Red Sox fans will still get the opportunity to celebrate Koji Time next season, but it will come an inning or two earlier than it used to.
Next: Manny Ramirez