Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski will finally have the bullpen he designed playing together. Koji Uehara is back.
Mark Chiarelli of MLB.com reported that “Red Sox manager John Farrell said the team will activate reliever Koji Uehara off the disabled list Monday, and the 41-year-old righty will be available out of the bullpen beginning on Tuesday against the [San Diego] Padres.” Chiarelli added, “Uehara spoke with reporters Saturday afternoon, saying he felt ‘100 percent.’ Farrell said he’s been encouraged with Uehara’s recovery over the last 10 days.”
Farrell said, “[Uehara] has the potential to be a proven closer type of guy for us […] We know that there’s going to be three appearances that are almost in a Spring Training mode, which might be low-leverage just to get him game action under his belt and see how he responds to in-game exertion and activity.”
A proven closer type of guy? Well, not a lot of Shakespearean rhetoric is expected from the Red Sox manager; however, he’s about one thing: Uehara’s rise from the ashes of the disabled list is just what the Red Sox need right now.
For most men at age 40, an injured right pectoral muscle would be a complete disaster. It would debilitate one’s job performance, requiring months to possibly a year off of work. Even then, it may not ever feel the same. Not for Koji. For him, it’s old news. Since signing with Boston in 2012, Uehara has had a strained left hamstring in April of 2015, for which he returned with the 15-day DL timeframe, and he fractured his pitching wrist in August of the same year, for which he fully healed in just a couple of months. His injuries didn’t slow him down too much, as Uehara still earned 25 saves in 27 opportunities, even on a dreadful Red Sox team.
Been there, done that. Now, at 41 years of age, Koji is looking to pick up his teammates in the bullpen. Even if it’s at the set-up role, instead of the closer.
Craig Kimbrel was signed in the offseason to be the closer and, for the most part, he’s done the job. Kimbrel’s recorded 24 saves in 26 opportunities, with a stunning .166 opposing batting average and 69 strikeouts.
Poor Brad Ziegler was the closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks before being brought to Boston to help the Red Sox get to the eighth inning. Koji’s injury and Kimbrel’s time on the DL, with a bad knee, forced the Red Sox to use Ziegler in multiple roles. The process may have messed with his preparations, as the 36-year-old sidearmer earned only three saves in seven opportunities. He had 18 saves out of 20 opportunities with Arizona earlier in the year.
Having Koji back means that Red Sox Nation can finally see how the three-closer bullpen was supposed to work, when Dombrowski first made moves in July to make it happen. Not to say that Uehara will just throw down the thunder and dominate as soon as he returns. The alternative, however, of watching the Red Sox bullpen struggle without him has been worse. When one sees the starter leave the game, it’s a bit more reassuring to see closer after closer take the mound for the last three innings. With Koji back, Ziegler can expect almost every seventh inning to be his and Kimbrel doesn’t need to worry about having to perform early in the eighth. Each man has a defined role and can keep away from other distractions.
That’s for Farrell to worry about.