Boston Red Sox: Koji Uehara

BOSTON -- Part of the collateral damage from the Red Sox's first-half struggles came clear on Sunday, when Jon Lester was the team's lone representative named to the American League All-Star squad (although a second member, Koji Uehara, is in line to eventually pick up a spot).

No David Ortiz, no Dustin Pedroia, who have been regular participants in recent years. Ortiz had been selected nine of the last 10 years, Pedroia four of the last six.

Lester, who earned his third All-Star selection, still talks about the honor with stars in his eyes.

“This is what you want to do as a kid. You watch All-Star Games, you watch the playoffs on TV and you dream about one day hopefully being in that position,” Lester said. “And to live that dream and have that opportunity to go to three All-Star Games, and two World Series rings -- I don’t want to say it’s a dream come true because hopefully I have a few more World Series in me and all the other stuff to go along with it. Everyone in this room dreams about it as a kid.”

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesJon Lester earned his third All-Star selection, but teammates David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia didn't make the cut.
The selection of Lester by Red Sox manager John Farrell is easily justified by the numbers.

Lester made a strong stamp on his All-Star resume in May when he fanned a career-high 15 batters in a win over Oakland. He followed that up with seven more strong starts. Since the beginning of June, Lester is 4-1 with an ERA of 1.65, striking out 39 batters in 49 innings and allowing just eight walks. He posted an ERA of 1.98 for the month of June, his best full month in nearly four years.

Currently, Lester ranks seventh in the AL in ERA (2.73) and strikeouts (122), and is tied for eighth in wins (9). Among AL lefties, Lester is second only to Tampa Bay’s David Price in K’s, and third to Toronto’s Mark Buehrle and Oakland’s Scott Kazmir in wins.

Farrell said that Lester and Uehara, who Farrell said is the first alternate replacement, have been playing “All-Star caliber baseball this entire first half of the season.”

“When you look at what Jon’s been able to do in terms of where he stacks up with other starters -- top five or top six in most pitching categories -- he has earned the selection,” Farrell said.

While it’s assumed that Uehara eventually will be added to the AL squad -- several starters are lined up to pitch on Sunday -- the reliever was cautious when approached about the All-Star Game. Asked through a translator if he was surprised about not getting selected initially, Uehara said, “No, not at all,” adding with a laugh, “I have some things to do during the All-Star break myself.”

Ortiz and Pedroia expressed similar indifference despite their popularity in the polls. Ortiz finished third among AL designated hitters with 2.4 million votes, while Pedroia finished fourth among AL second basemen with 1.8 million.

Pedroia laughed when asked about any disappointment, saying “[I’m going to] get some sleep, man.”

Ortiz had several conversations with Farrell about his potential selection, with Ortiz essentially ceding his spot.

“I’m a fan of guys who have had a really, really good first half making the All-Star Game, and there’s a couple guys ahead of me this year at my position,” Ortiz said. “We had a conversation, and [Farrell] asked me how I feel about it, and I said I just don’t feel like taking those guys’ places.

"I don’t think it’s fair to guys like Nelson Cruz and Victor [Martinez] and [Edwin] Encarnacion, who are having unbelievable seasons, they don’t have as many All-Star Games as I have. You just keep it real. They’re having a better season than what I’m having, and they well deserved it.”

Lester named All-Star; Koji likely addition

July, 6, 2014
Jul 6
BOSTON -- Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester will be joining his manager John Farrell in Minnesota for the All-Star Game July 15.

Nine-time All-Star David Ortiz, however, will not.

As part of the “Taco Bell All-Star Selection Show” on ESPN Sunday night, Lester was announced as a manager’s decision for this year’s game, his third time making the American League team. Lester was the only Red Sox player announced as part of the initial 33-man roster.

Red Sox closer Koji Uehara is in line to be named to the team as a replacement pitcher by Farrell in the coming days. Farrell indicated a number of pitchers will be replaced because they are scheduled to pitch the Sunday before the break. Uehara has converted 18 of 19 save opportunities this season, posting a 1.30 ERA and striking out 52 in 41 2/3 innings.

After jumping out to a quick lead at designated hitter in the All-Star fan vote, Ortiz eventually lost to Baltimore Orioles slugger Nelson Cruz, who is tied for the major league lead in home runs (27) and leads in RBIs (71). Ortiz has turned in a strong year at the plate, hitting .261 and leading Boston with 19 home runs and 55 RBIs.

Ortiz was named an All-Star every year from 2004-2008, as well as from 2010-2013.

“There were a couple of conversations that led up to the selection of it,” Farrell said. “Had a chance to talk to David and felt like the four days of rest might be more advantageous to him. And he was a pro about it -- spoke his mind and really had a lot of input into the decision.”

In the midst of a career year, Lester is 9-7 with a 2.73 ERA in 18 starts. His 122 strikeouts are second to Tampa Bay’s David Price among AL left-handers while his ERA ranks sixth in the AL.

“When you look at what Jon has been able to do in terms of where he stacks up with other starters -- in the top five or top six in most pitching categories -- he has earned the selection,” Farrell said.

BOSTON -- Fittingly enough, the Boston Red Sox's most outspoken patriot came up clutch on the Fourth of July weekend.

Jonny Gomes came on to pinch hit to lead off the bottom of the ninth, and on the third pitch of his at-bat against Baltimore Orioles reliever T.J. McFarland, Gomes slapped one to the left side of the infield, sprinting down the first-base line to beat the throw from short by a step.

David Ross' sacrifice moved Gomes to second, and then pinch hitter Jonathan Herrera came through with the heroics on the next at-bat. Facing a 1-0 count, the switch-hitting Herrera took McFarland's two-seamer opposite field into right-center. Gomes dove across home plate as Adam Jones' throw home wasn't in time.

Jonny on the spot: This one will go down as a no-decision for Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, but he continued his run of strong starts with a terrific outing this afternoon. Working both sides of the plate, Lester gave up five hits in eight innings of work, striking out seven, walking none and allowing two unearned runs. He threw 118 pitches, 83 of them for strikes.

Lester has had some mixed history with two of Baltimore's most-feared power hitters. Entering Saturday, Nelson Cruz was a career .458/.519/1.000 in 24 at-bats against Lester, while Chris Davis was a paltry .111/.172/.296 in 27 at-bats with nine strikeouts.

Davis continued his woes, fanning twice to end up 3-for-30 for his career against Lester. But most impressive was Lester's battles with Cruz, who ranks among the major league leaders in home runs and RBIs. Cruz finished 0-for-4 against Lester. In the top of the first, Lester jammed Cruz with a 3-2 four-seamer inside for a soft 5-3 putout.

In the third, he got Cruz looking at a four-seamer away. He went away again in the sixth, getting him to chase at a four-seamer that went opposite field but died near the warning track in right. In the eighth, Cruz grounded into a pretty 6-4-3 double play turned by Stephen Drew.

More timely hitting woes: The Sox plated two runs off of six hits in the first two innings, then were left helpless for the next four as they went cold, going down in order four straight times before a two-out Jackie Bradley Jr. single in the bottom of the seventh broke the slump. Most glaring was A.J. Pierzynski, who took the designated-hitter role in place of David Ortiz. All four of his at-bats ended in popouts, three of them in foul territory; after the fourth one, he received a loud chorus of boos from the Fenway crowd.

Koji time: Koji Uehara came up crucial in the ninth inning, the 10th time this year he's entered the game with a tied score, mowing down the meat of Baltimore's order in succession. After ringing up Adam Jones to lead off, he whiffed Davis on a two-seamer for his third strikeout of the day, then he jammed Hardy with a splitter for a 6-3 groundout to end the game.

Bogaerts' slump continues: Has Xander Bogaerts hit the dreaded rookie wall? Things appear that way after the promising youngster had another forgettable day at the plate and on the field. With today's 0-for-4 performance at the plate, he has now gone hitless in 27 straight at-bats. Most notably, he came up empty in the bottom of the eighth. After Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia advanced on a wild pitch, Bogaerts stared at a called third strike. In the field, he made an egregious error from third base, booting a 5-3 attempt to allow two Orioles runners to score.

Drew puts on a show: You weren't dreaming. Yes, that was Stephen Drew and his .147 batting average going deep today off of Miguel Gonzalez for his first homer of the year. Drew led off the bottom of the second inning by turning on Gonzalez's first pitch, a 93 mph two-seamer, and planting it in the visitor's bullpen behind right field. For Drew, it was his first homer since Game 6 of last year's World Series, when his solo shot helped clinch Boston's third title in 10 years.

On the defensive side, Drew turned a sweet double play. Chasing a Cruz grounder up the middle, Drew slid to his left and flipped the ball to Pedroia, who fired to first to end the top of the eighth inning.

Koji likely available despite recent fatigue

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
BOSTON –Red Sox closer Koji Uehara will likely be available if needed Wednesday night, despite telling reporters through an interpreter that he felt fatigued during his appearance Tuesday night.

Sox manager John Farrell said all signs point to Uehara being an option, adding that he feels Uehara hasn’t been overused.

“There’s been times where he’s expressed [fatigue] with some regularity of use,” Farrell said. “The one thing that Koji’s been very clear at is that anytime he does feel something he’s expressive and we wouldn’t do anything to put him in harm’s way.”

Coming in to pitch the top of the ninth in Tuesday night’s game against the Cubs, Uehara allowed the winning run to score on a sacrifice fly after giving up a leadoff single to Anthony Rizzo and double to Starlin Castro. He was saddled with his second loss of the season as the Red Sox offense failed to score in the bottom half of the inning.

After the game, Uehara said that he felt his stuff wasn’t crisp and that he thinks some adjustments need to be made.

The 39-year-old has made 38 appearances this season, allowing only two runs in his first 31 before giving up four runs in his past seven games.

Uehara showing signs of wear

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
BOSTON -- It was only a matter of time until the crack in Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara’s armor would begin to show.

Otherworldly for the majority of the past two seasons, Uehara has been nearly automatic every time he’s been sent to the mound. So when manager John Farrell found his team in a 1-1 tie entering the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Cubs, there was no hesitation in using his closer to keep his team in position to walk off with a victory in the bottom of the frame.

[+] EnlargeKoji Uehara
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesKoji Uehara returns to the mound after allowing the Cubs to score the go-ahead run.
Instead, Uehara faltered. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo hit a first-pitch single to center, soon making his way to third as Starlin Castro followed with a full-count double to left. By the time Uehara settled down, the winning run had crossed the plate on a Luis Valbuena sacrifice fly and the Red Sox once again were on the losing end of a close contest, this time 2-1.

However, the team may have a bigger problem on its hands regarding the 39-year-old closer.

“I wasn’t crisp,” Uehara said through an interpreter. “I think it’s a little bit of fatigue.”

Fatigue? Surely the seemingly unhuman Uehara wouldn’t succumb to such a mortal dilemma. Alas, making his 38th appearance of the season, perhaps Uehara is reaching the point where perfection isn’t to be expected each time he takes the mound.

“You can’t go out and not give up a run every time out, it’s impossible,” starter Clay Buchholz said. “Things happen, the game is hard. Regardless of if you throw 120 mph, somebody is going to get a hit off of you and score a run.”

For his part, Buchholz looked strong in his second consecutive start since returning from the disabled list. He held the Cubs to one run on five hits in 6 1/3 innings, retiring 13 straight from the end of the first to the beginning of the sixth, and getting 10 of the 24 batters he faced to ground out. More importantly, he again walked nobody, a step forward from where he was before he went to the DL.

“His stuff in Seattle [Buchholz's last start] was better than it’s ever been before he went on the DL and tonight it was even better,” catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “Hopefully we’ll continue to build off of this in five days and pitch even better.”

After hitting Welington Castillo with one out and one on in the seventh, Buchholz was lifted in favor of left-hander Andrew Miller, who struck out two right-handers to end the threat. Junichi Tazawa followed Miller with a scoreless eighth, striking out two of his own, before Farrell turned the ball over to Uehara in the ninth.

“When he’s given up some base hits, it’s been on the first or second pitch where he’s trying to get a strike and it’s not the true put-away split -- that was the case with Rizzo tonight,” Farrell said. “It’s been more in the early counts where we’ve seen some of the damage take place.”

Uehara admitted the same, noting that perhaps there are some adjustments he needs to make. Having allowed runs in three of his last seven outings, Uehara said it’s important for him to do the basic things right in order to maintain his energy. That and, of course, get younger, as he joked with reporters.

Still, Uehara’s teammates haven’t lost faith in him after taking his second loss of the season on Tuesday.

“He had a couple of pretty good pitches,” Pierzynski said. “He’s been pretty darn good all year so for him to give up a run -- those things happen.”

Ortiz carries Red Sox to great escape

June, 22, 2014
Jun 22

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz had gone hitless in his first four at-bats Sunday against the Oakland A's with a strikeout, two weak ground outs and one pop fly.

Ortiz looked more like an imposter than one of baseball's most dangerous power hitters. But when he led off the top of the 10th inning of a 6-6 game, the real Ortiz returned, just as his manager and teammates expected.

Ortiz drilled a home run off A's left-hander Fernando Abad over the left-center field fence, putting the Red Sox ahead, and they held on for a 7-6 victory.

"Situations like that, he seems to come through all the time," Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli said. "He's our guy. He's our power guy, he's our hitter. We feed off him. When he goes, we go pretty good. He's huge in our lineup. The things he does are pretty amazing. Especially late in games. He's pretty special."

If not for Ortiz, the Red Sox's short postgame flight to Seattle would have seemed longer than a bus ride to Boston. They had blown a 6-1 lead, giving up three runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth when closer Koji Uehara gave up solo home runs to Stephen Vogt and John Jaso, snapping his streak of 31 straight saves.

Ortiz said he put his 0-for-4 start to the game behind him.

[+] EnlargeRed Sox
Lance Iversen/USA TODAY SportsKoji Uehara, who blew his first save of the season in the ninth, gives a hug to David Ortiz after finishing off the A's in the 10th.
"You have to. It's not like you've got to go out there and try to get five hits in one at-bat," Ortiz said. "Whatever happened in the past happened, and you've just got to go up there with a fresh mind and try to do something different. It's not as easy as it sounds, but what can you do after you're 0-for-3 or 0-for-4 and you have another at-bat? You just go up there and fight."

Ortiz lined Abad's 1-0 pitch over the wall, and Uehara pitched a perfect 10th inning as the Red Sox escaped what could have been a nightmarish loss. The Red Sox salvaged the final game of their four-game series against Oakland after losing the first three.

"He does have the knack for the moment and more than anything he stays at rest or at peace mentally in those key spots and doesn't miss his pitch when he gets it," Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Ortiz.

Ortiz hit a game-tying solo home run Wednesday against Minnesota, and Napoli followed with a walk-off shot in the Red Sox's 2-1 win. Ortiz has 10 career extra-inning home runs.

Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, who allowed three runs over 7 2/3 innings, said he wasn't surprised by Ortiz's heroics.

"No. Never, never," Lester said. "I've seen it for a long time. That's David. Even when he's kind of off, he's struggling a little bit, he finds a way to pick us up."

Farrell said what made Ortiz's home run Sunday so special was the fact that he has been in a slump.

"I think given the fact he's been working through some things mechanically, it shows that he is human, and I just think it gives us greater appreciation for when those moments like this shine and when he comes through at such an opportune time," Farrell said.

Uehara had allowed only two earned runs in his previous 44 save opportunities, saving 42 of those games. He gave up two earned runs on two swings of the bat in the ninth inning Sunday. As he did Wednesday against Minnesota, when Uehara gave up a 10th-inning home run in a scoreless tie, Ortiz came to the closer's rescue.

"I was relieved and also I knew before that home run that I was going to go in as long as we got the lead, so I was getting myself prepared," Uehara said.

The Red Sox's slumbering offense woke up, racking up 13 hits, including solo home runs from David Ross, Napoli and Ortiz. Johnny Gomes ignited the attack with a two-run single with the bases loaded in the first inning and went 3-for-5 with a run scored.

"Given what's taken place the last three days, I really liked the way we came out and swung the bats early," Farrell said. "Despite the last three days, our guys are still fighting, they're still putting together as best and as tough of at-bats as they can. This was a hard-fought series. It's good to salvage one out of it."

Napoli went 2-for-4 with his eighth home run of the season and stole home in the third on the back end of an unplanned double steal. After Jonathan Herrera got caught leaning the wrong way by A's left-hander Tommy Milone with two outs, he darted for second. When A's first baseman Brandon Moss threw the ball to second baseman Nick Punto, Napoli headed home. Punto's throw was high, and Napoli slid under catcher Derek Norris' tag.

"I saw he got picked off," Napoli said. "I've got to try it. Usually in a rundown you're going to get somebody out. I don't know how I slid like that and avoided the tag. I came in there and did some ninja move to get under the tag."

Boston's greatest escape of the day was yet to come.

Closing time: Koji's historic calendar year

June, 21, 2014
Jun 21
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the day Koji Uehara was named the Red Sox's closer. Since then, he has 42 saves in 44 chances in the regular season and postseason. In those 44 saves opportunities he has allowed just two earned runs.

"It's just about preparing every day, same way every day," Uehara said through a translator.

This season, Uehara is 15-for-15 in save chances, extending his streak to 31 straight regular-season saves. That's the longest active streak in the major leagues and second-longest in Red Sox history. Tom Gordon saved 54 straight for the Red Sox from April 19, 1998 through May 31, 1999, setting an American League record.

"Amazing," manager John Farrell said of Uehara's numbers as a closer. "When you can count the runs he's given up on one hand, pretty good."

Koji, man with golden glove? You betcha

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
BALTIMORE -- Koji Uehara’s command of the king’s English was not at play here. Sometimes he doesn’t wait for the translation before answering questions in interviews, so you know that he had no trouble understanding what catcher A.J. Pierzynski was yelling at him when Ryan Flaherty bunted the ball back to him in the ninth.

“I heard A.J. yell, ‘One, One, one,’’’ Uehara said after Boston’s 1-0 win over the Baltimore Orioles Tuesday night.

[+] EnlargeMike Napoli
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyKoji Uehara and Mike Napoli had something to celebrate after Uehara's 13th save.
With the play in front of him -- pinch hitter Steve Pearce was aboard on a leadoff single -- Pierzynski was urging Uehara to throw to first.

“I always err on the side of caution,’’ Pierzynski said. “You don’t want to let the guy get to second, and then you have first and second, no outs, and then they bunt him to third.’’

Uehara had other ideas.

“I felt like I could get the out at second,’’ he said. “I knew how fast the runner was going.’’

Watching from the dugout, what was Sox manager John Farrell thinking?

“Koji’s trusted in everything he does,’’ Farrell said. “His game awareness is outstanding.’’

Uehara whirled and threw a strike to shortstop Jonathan Herrera, who pumped his fist in the air as the throw just beat the sliding Pearce to the second-base bag.

“Thank God he got him out,’’ Pierzynski said. “I was just trying to get the out. Koji doesn’t give up a lot of hits, so I was just trying to get outs, but he wheeled and threw to second. It worked out perfectly.

“Koji being the savvy veteran he is, he made the right play.’’

With the Orioles denied the tying run in scoring position, Uehara went back to work, striking out Nick Markakis and Manny Machado to finish off his 13th save in 13 opportunities. He has made 16 straight scoreless appearances, allowing just seven hits while striking out 21. It didn’t faze him when Pierzynski was charged with an error when he failed to catch Markakis’s popup to the screen. Koji time waits for no man.

But when asked how much pride he takes in his fielding, Uehara smiled.

“It might be boasting a little bit,’’ he said, “but I won two Gold Gloves in Japan.’’

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 5, Rangers 2

May, 11, 2014
May 11

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Red Sox got on the right side of .500 for the first time since the opening week of the season with a 5-2 win over the Texas Rangers on Sunday, improving to 19-18.

The win also gave the Sox their third straight series win.

Boston has Monday off before beginning a three-game set in Minnesota.

Lackey feels at home -- Red Sox starter John Lackey looked very comfortable on the mound at Globe Life Park. He should have -- it was his 20th start in Arlington, the city where he played his college baseball at the University of Texas at Arlington. Lackey went seven innings, allowing two earned runs while striking out nine. It was his sixth outing this year in which he's allowed two or fewer runs and the third with no walks. The win moves Lackey to 5-2 on the season and puts him a game over .500 lifetime against the Rangers in Arlington at 8-7.

Return of Uehara -- Sox closer Koji Uehara saw his first action since his save against Cincinnati last Wednesday, picking up his ninth save of the season in short work. Uehara got Alex Rios to ground out and took care of the rest himself, striking out DH Mitch Moreland and pinch hitter Michael Choice, both looking. He his now 9-for-9 on the season in save opportunities.

Napoli makes them pay -- Rangers manager Ron Washington elected to intentionally walk Red Sox DH David Ortiz in the first inning with one out and Dustin Pedroia on third in favor of one of his former players, Mike Napoli. In the second pitch of his at-bat, Napoli doubled off the right-field wall, scoring Pedroia. Napoli and Ortiz both came home one batter later on a single by another former Ranger, catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

Snubbing a former teammate -- Napoli followed his clutch hit in the first with a fine defensive play to end the sixth. With two outs, Napoli had to contend with the sun and the wall down the first-base line but snagged a foul pop by former teammate Adrian Beltre. Just after making the catch, Napoli rocked over the wall, leaning into the crowd before displaying his glove with ball inside.

Pedroia reboots -- After a stretch from the third into the seventh inning that saw the Sox collect just one hit of Rangers starter Robbie Ross Jr., Pedroia again was Boston’s offensive spark, drilling a solo home run, his second of the season, into the visitors bullpen on a full count. Before Friday’s game, manager John Farrell lauded Pedroia’s selflessness moving into the leadoff spot for the good of the team and, in turn, truly becoming the catalyst for everything the Red Sox offense does.

It’s not an easy idea to grasp, this notion of Koji Uehara as a work in progress instead of ninja closer, one whose entry into a game last season meant everyone else could relax.

But even after a turn-back-the-clock night of Koji Time on Wednesday, one in which Uehara struck out the side on 10 pitches to preserve Boston’s 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds, the 39-year-old Red Sox pitcher acknowledged that he is still short of where he wants to be.

“Mechanics-wise, I don’t think I’m quite there,” Uehara said before the Sox departed for Texas and a three-game series against the Rangers that opens Friday. “The split, I wasn’t completely satisfied with how it was acting at all.”

This has not been an easy spring for Uehara. He has converted all eight of his save opportunities, but he was shut down for a few days last month with some shoulder stiffness, and since returning has endured some long innings -- it took him 27 pitches to get through the ninth inning Sunday against Oakland -- and was taken deep twice in the span of six days, first by Jose Bautista in Toronto, then with a ninth-inning, tie-breaking home run by Yunel Escobar of the Rays that pinned a loss on Uehara last Thursday.

[+] EnlargeKoji Uehara
AP Photo/Michael DwyerKoji Uehara's stats are a little off, but he's still 8-for-8 in save opportunities.
Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart came close to duplicating Escobar’s feat Tuesday night, when he launched a ball deep to right in the ninth inning of a 3-3 tie. In Cincinnati, the ball would have landed 20 rows into the seats. In Fenway Park, it died in Shane Victorino’s glove a couple of feet in front of the fence.

Red Sox manager John Farrell brought Uehara back the next night, and was much more encouraged by what he saw.

“Much more sharp,” Farrell said after Wednesday's outing. “I know he’s been working on some things. The last few times out he’s been across himself with his direction and his delivery and it’s taken away from the crispness and the overall command of his stuff. He was able to get back on line a little bit here tonight, and he was Koji-like, [the way] we’ve seen for quite a while.”

Uehara insists that he is healthy, that he would not be pitching if he were hurt. But he admitted that his mechanics have been off, that he has been throwing across his body instead of going right at a hitter, and pointed to a physical reason for that being the case: advancing age.

“I think it’s more of some accumulated fatigue,” he said. “I’m not that young.”

There is also the matter of Uehara’s workload last season -- 74 1/3 innings in the regular season, an additional 13 2/3 high-leverage innings in the postseason. That’s more than double the 36 innings he had pitched in 2013 for Texas, and having worked deep into October, also made for a shorter recovery time in the offseason.

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington was motivated this winter to sign another experienced closer, Edward Mujica, in part by his concerns about how Uehara would bounce back.

Uehara said he has been trying to build additional arm strength through long toss and playing catch, and said he had similar issues this time last year. But arm fatigue often can leave a pitcher more vulnerable to injury, and while Farrell insists that Uehara has recovered fully from the shoulder stiffness that plagued him earlier, it still bears watching.

After striking out 17 of the first 39 batters he faced this season, Uehara had fanned just two of 17 batters until whiffing the side Wednesday.

According to, the velocity on both of Uehara’s pitches, his fastball and splitter, is down from last season. He’s averaging just 87.7 mph on his fastball, compared to 89.2 in 2013, and the splitter is down to 79.4 mph compared to 81 in 2013.

His strikeout rate is down, from 38.1 percent to 37.3 percent, while his walk rate is up, from 3.4 percent to 5.1 percent. Opponents, who batted .129 against him last season, are hitting .232, and his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) has risen from .188 to .344.

Perhaps indicative of the issues he has had with his splitter (“I was elevating”) is that his ground-ball percentage is down substantially, from 40.4 percent to 31.3 percent, while his line-drive percentage has risen from 11.3 percent to 15.6 percent.

Still, Uehara’s perceived “problems” might not even register as such if he had not set the bar so high in 2013. He acknowledged as much when asked how close he is to where he wants to be.

“One season,” he said.

ESPN Boston contributor Kyle Brasseur contributed to this report.

Rapid Reaction: Red Sox 4, Reds 3

May, 7, 2014
May 7

BOSTON -- Takeaways from the Fens, where the long New England nightmare is finally over.

After eight failed previous attempts to reach the .500 mark, the defending world champion Red Sox can now proudly declare they have won as many games as they have lost in 2014. The Sox are now 17-17.

The result: It wasn't easy -- of course, it wasn't easy -- but the Sox came from behind to beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-3, their second one-run win by that score over their National League cousins in two nights. And for the second straight night, a struggling Sox hitter came through with a late-inning hit that might give him a much-needed lift.

Middlebrooks delivers: In 14 previous at-bats, third baseman Will Middlebrooks had grounded out nine times, whiffed three times and had two line-drive singles. Wednesday, he'd grounded out to short in the third, hit into an inning-ending double play in the fifth and walked in the seventh. His batting average was down to .200, a drop of 94 percentage points since his first game back from the disabled list.

But Middlebrooks, in a duel with Reds reliever J.J. Hoover, laid off some tough pitches to work a full count, fouled off another tough pitch, then hit a hard shot up the middle for the single that scored Jonny Gomes with the go-ahead run.

The decisive rally: Mike Napoli, who has reached base in a career-best 28 straight games, drew a one-out walk from Reds left-handed reliever Manny Parra. When manager John Farrell sent up Gomes to hit for Grady Sizemore, Reds manager Bryan Price countered with right-hander Hoover. Gomes spoiled that strategy by drawing another walk.

A.J. Pierzynski then hit a ball that one-hopped the low wall along the right-field foul line for a ground-rule double, and Napoli scored the tying run. Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. was issued an intentional walk to load the bases, and Middlebrooks followed with his base hit.

Customary Koji: Reliever Koji Uehara, who has been something less than his ninja self in recent outings, returned to form in a big way, striking out the side in the ninth to record his eighth save.

BresloWW: Reliever Craig Breslow, who hadn't won a game before this series, was credited with his second win in two nights after pitching a scoreless eighth. The highlight of that inning for the left-hander was inducing the dangerous Joey Votto to ground into a double play after issuing a leadoff walk to Skip Schumaker.

Perils of Peavy: Jake Peavy pitched into the seventh and gave up just four hits but was charged with three runs, two scoring on Skip Schumaker's home run in the third. Peavy departed with the bases loaded and none out in the seventh. One run scored on Roger Bernadina's chopper off lefty Chris Capuano before Burke Badenhop recorded two more ground ball outs to limit the damage.

RISP, not R.I.P.: Three singles, the last by David Ortiz, and a double by Napoli drew the Sox even at two in the sixth before the Reds took the lead again.

Four-K night for Pedey: Dustin Pedroia struck out four times, only the second time in his career he has done so. The other occasion was May 4, 2011, against the Los Angeles Angels.

BOSTON -- Let's face it. You're not going to sleep anyway, not when the Bruins lost in double overtime to the hated Habs and the Red Sox lost two in the span of 10 hours to the wounded but still-dangerous Rays. So here are a few things about the Sox that may keep you staring at the ceiling long past sanity:

1. It's not about to get any easier. The Oakland Athletics arrive for three, starting Friday night. They have the best run differential in the league at plus-59, outscoring their opponents by better than two runs a game (5.3 to 3.2). They have the league's lowest ERA (2.78), they rank third in runs scored, and they had the luxury of spending a day off in Boston on Thursday while the Sox spent roughly 15 hours at Fenway Park.

[+] EnlargeKoji Uehara
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesKoji Uehara watches Yunel Escobar's home run sail over the Green Monster.
2. You have a right to worry about Koji. So maybe if he hadn't shut it down for a few days because of some shoulder stiffness last month, you could chalk this up to Koji Uehara reclaiming his mortality, giving up two home runs in the span of six batters, one to Jose Bautista on Saturday, one to Yunel Escobar in the ninth inning Thursday night that was the difference in Tampa Bay's 6-5 win in the nightcap.

Uehara claimed he wanted to bounce an 0-and-1 splitter to Escobar in the dirt and instead threw a hanger. He said he always gives up home runs in April and May. He said there is nothing wrong with him physically. "If I wasn't feeling physically fine, I wouldn't be pitching," Uehara said. Manager John Farrell said Uehara has not complained of any physical issues. Still, he is 39, and we have become utterly spoiled by his near-perfection. He had told us himself that he couldn't possibly duplicate his wondrous 2013, but two home runs in three outings? That kind of slippage, no one is prepared for, and you have to hope that he's as healthy as he claims to be.

3. The weather is warming up; will the bats? The Sox had six hits in both games Thursday. They have had six hits or fewer 12 times in 29 games, or 41.4 percent of the time. Last season, the Sox had six hits or fewer 35 times in 162 games, a 21.6 percent rate. They drew seven walks in the first game and scored only one run, stranding 11 men on base. They scored all of their runs in the second game in one inning, and it took three walks, a wild pitch and a hit batsman to jump-start a rally that featured three straight two-out singles. They had 10 walks in the second game, and left 10 men on base.

Everybody is back now, so the Sox figured to get on a roll. It looked that way, too, when the Sox scored seven or more runs three times in four games, including seven against the Rays in the series opener Tuesday night. It looked anything but that way Thursday.

"The one thing I will say is, we continue to create those opportunities," Farrell said. "Things will turn, and yet, that RBI base hit with runners in scoring position is elusive right now."

The RISP tally Thursday: 1-for-8 in Game 1, 3-for-12 in Game 2.

The RISP for the season: 58-for-260, a .223 average.

[+] EnlargeFelix Doubront
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesFelix Doubront threw six innings and was in line for the win until Junichi Tazawa gave up the game-tying run in the eighth inning.
The Sox had the tying run on second base with one out in the ninth in the first game and on third with one out in the ninth in the nightcap, but failed to score. This, from a team that produced 11 walk-off wins last season, which just shows that magic has an expiration date.

Thursday night, Rays closer Grant Balfour threw called third strikes past Mike Napoli and Xander Bogaerts with Shane Victorino on third. Napoli looked at a fastball, Bogaerts a slider.

"He threw me five straight sliders and a heater right down the middle," Napoli said. "I was pretty much sitting on [the slider]. Couldn't react to it.

"We start moving forward and then back up a little bit. Just got to keep grinding. We know we've got a good ballclub, just have to put it together."

4. When will the bobblehead people go off? The Sox have given away two bobbleheads so far this season, one of David Ortiz and on Thursday, one of Dustin Pedroia. Nice dolls, but the players have yet to hit at the level that made them celebrities in this town. Ortiz hit a couple of tape-measure home runs last week, including a monster 482-foot shot that ranks as his longest since at least 2006. But his batting average is hovering at .250, and twice Thursday, with a chance to tie the score in the ninth inning, he was retired on ground balls by Balfour. In Game 1, Balfour had to talk manager Joe Maddon into letting him pitch to Ortiz with first base open.

Pedroia, meanwhile, finished April with an OPS of .676, almost 100 percentage points lower than his career April OPS of .769, and his worst April OPS since 2007, his rookie season, when he came in at .544. Pedroia has a team-high nine doubles but is still looking for his first home run in 158 at-bats since last Sept. 17. There have been a couple of Wall balls that should have gone out, but even more startling is that 29 games into the season, he has knocked in only six runs, even though he has come to the plate with 65 runners on base.

The track record suggests both Ortiz and Pedroia will produce, and in a big way, but with the team three games under .500 and playing too many games where the big hit has been lacking, the Sox could use some major contributions sooner than later.

5. The mistakes of youth have their price. Farrell said the onus was on shortstop Bogaerts to take charge on the popup that fell to earth out of the reach of a lunging third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who was charged with an error on the play even though he and Bogaerts bumped. Felix Doubront could have spared the infielders further embarrassment; instead, he gave up a two-run home run to Sean Rodriguez that made it a one-run game, 5-4.

The Rays had four home runs in this three-game set; the Sox, none.

6. The Karma Kops aren't cutting the Sox a break. The Sox had a call at the plate go against them in Game 1, costing them what would have been the tying run. They blew a 5-2 lead in the second game and lost with their unhittable closer on the mound. The Rays didn't even want to play two Thursday, and wound up with a sweep.

"I really believe that we had vociferously fought for just one game for a lot of obvious reasons," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I'm not going to hide from the reasons, of course. We have a lot of guys injured, we had a lot of very difficult games recently so we wanted one game that we could have played when we were at greater health. It just did not work out that way, thus our players came out and made a statement today and they kind of enjoyed it."

Enjoyed it? Ben Zobrist rubbed it in. "I hope everybody enjoyed their bobbleheads," he said.

Takeaways: Pierzynski, Buchholz settle in

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26

TORONTO -- Quick hits from the Rogers Centre, where two straight wins against the Toronto Blue Jays have given the Red Sox the chance to reach the break-even point Sunday for the first time since April 4, when they were 2-2:

John Lackey was immense Wednesday night against the Yankees. Jake Peavy was terrific here Friday night. Clay Buchholz settled in after a very rough start and gave the Sox seven good innings Saturday. The common thread in all three starts? A.J. Pierzynski was behind the plate.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Pierzynski
AP PhotoA.J. Pierzynski is congratulated by David Ortiz after hitting a grand slam on April 26 in Toronto.
It takes time, Pierzynski said, but he's beginning to settle in as he gets to know this rotation better.

"I know you guys all think this is an easy job, but it's a hard job to do, and every game is different and every day is different," Pierzynski said after Saturday's 7-6 win over the Blue Jays. "Especially with starting pitching. You've got to find a groove and have got to find a way to go back out there and settle in. Tomorrow is a new day, and circumstances all change, but you try to fight the fight and try to win the game."

Until this week, there had been a marked difference in the overall performance of the Sox starters with Pierzynski behind the plate as compared to backup David Ross. Until Lackey's gem, Sox starters had been 4-10 with a 5.06 ERA with Pierzynski, while they were 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA with Ross.

But in Ross's past two games, with Buchholz and Felix Doubront on the hill, Sox starters have been charged with nine earned runs in five innings, while the tally has been five earned runs in 22 innings for Pierzynski's past three starts. Ross is now 5-3 with a 4.00 ERA, and Pierzynski is 7-10 with a 4.46 ERA.

"I'm getting there," Pierzynski said. "Every day is a little better."

Catchers' ERA can be a deceptive barometer of performance, but Pierzynski has been behind the plate for 11 of the team's quality starts this season, Ross for five.

• Pierzynski's grand slam in the third was his first in nearly five seasons (May 2, 2009, in Texas). It was also Boston's first hit of the game, yet gave the Sox a 5-0 lead, with Jays starter Brandon Morrow having walked the previous four batters in a row, and eight total, before being dismissed with two outs.

"We were just talking about that. I've never seen 7 walks in 2⅔ and no runs, no hits," Pierzynski said. "Usually, you give up that many walks, somebody's going to run into one or get a hit. But [Morrow] did a good job, made a couple of pitches to get a couple of double plays. Grady [Sizemore] put up a great at-bat to get the eighth walk and get us on the board, then, obviously, we came out with two home runs to put us ahead."

[+] EnlargeBuchholz
AP Photo/Frank GunnAfter the first three Blue Jays scored in the first, Clay Buchholz pitched six scoreless innings.
After Pierzynski took reliever Chad Jenkins deep, the next batter, Will Middlebrooks, did the same, the second time in five games the Sox have gone back-to-back. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli did so on Tuesday.

• Remember that scene in "It's Wonderful Life" in which George Bailey's pals plastered posters of exotic locales to make it seem like Bailey wasn't stuck in Bedford Falls for his honeymoon? Well, the Sox might have to employ similar deception to persuade Junichi Tazawa that he is anywhere but in Toronto.

"Me, too," said Koji Uehara, who survived a ninth-inning scare after Tazawa was touched up for two runs in the eighth.

Tazawa had not given up a run in 11 appearances (10 innings) until Saturday, when he was greeted by a home run by Juan Francisco leading off the eighth. Three more singles followed, and manager John Farrell had to employ Uehara for a four-out save. He retired the big leagues' leading hitman, Melky Cabrera, to end the eighth, but Jose Bautista took him deep to open the ninth, and two more hits followed before Edwin Encarnacion lined out wickedly to center to end it.

Uehara ha also been unscored upon this season (eight innings, eight saves). The Red Sox closer exaggerates his Toronto phobia -- he gave up just one hit in the Rogers Centre last season -- but Bautista's home run Saturday was the first allowed in the regular season by Uehara since last June 30, when Bautista hit a game-tying home run here.

Bautista is now just one of three players who have two career home runs off Uehara, joining Howie Kendrick and -- wait for it -- Johnny Damon.

Uehara said he didn't think he made a particularly good pitch to Cabrera. "I think Melky missed it," he said through interpreter Shigenari Matsumoto.

"Had it the whole way, the whole way," Pierzynski cracked. "I mean, we know these guys can hit. Bautista, Encarnacion, Francisco. They can hit. But as long as we end up with one more run than they do, it's a good day. It was a little scary in the eighth and ninth, but we found a way to get it done, and that's all you can ask for."

[+] EnlargeWill Middlebrooks
Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SportsWill Middlebrooks continues to mash the ball at Rogers Centre.
Uehara looked more relieved than happy when it was over.

"It's a feeling that I always feel," he said, "but it was more pronounced today."

Tazawa, meanwhile, does everything but break out into hives when he pitches here, or faces the Blue Jays, for that matter. Of the nine home runs he gave up last season, six were hit by the Blue Jays. Last season against Toronto, he was 1-3 with a 10.13 ERA, and since the start of the 2013 season, the Jays are hitting .439 (18-for-41) with 10 extra-base hits against him. They're batting .400 here.

"They're such a good fastball-hitting team," Farrell said of the Jays. "It's strength on strength, and a few times they've beaten him."

• As inhospitable as Toronto is to Tazawa, it's a hitter's paradise for Middlebrooks. It was here that he hit three home runs in a game last April 7, and he now has 10 extra-base hits in his past 10 games here dating back to the start of 2013. That ties him with Orioles strongman Chris Davis for most extra-base hits by a visiting player.

Middlebrooks has lined six balls hard in two games, including Saturday's home run and a single and double Friday.

"Yeah, I feel good," he said. "I went down to Triple-A for a couple of days [three-day rehab assignment] and got [overmatched] a little bit. Guys were throwing 100 [mph]. But I feel good, really good. I feel like I'm putting myself in a good position to hit, getting into good counts."

Middlebrooks also made a key defensive play, taking away a hit from Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie in the sixth.

"It's always good to take away a hit from that guy," Middlebrooks said. "He takes a lot of hits away from a lot of people. He's a good player. He took one from Jackie [Bradley Jr]. We owed him."

[+] EnlargeKoji Uehara, A.J. Pierzynski
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesA.J. Pierzynski and Koji Uehara were relieved after stamping out the Blue Jays' comeback bid.
• Buchholz made some adjustments since his last start, speeding up the tempo of his delivery. It looked ugly early -- "You could see he didn't look comfortable at all," Pierzynski said -- but gradually, he found a rhythm and a more consistent release point and gave up just two more hits over six scoreless innings. That was particularly noticeable, Farrell said, with his cutter and curveball.

"He found a way to give us seven innings," Pierzynski said. "That was huge. People are going to forget he went seven innings after the first three hitters scored. Hopefully, he can build on that. That's an outing as a pitcher you should be proud of."

• It helped, Buchholz said, to have Bradley running down balls behind him, most notably in the third, when, with his trademark great jump, Bradley was able to overtake a gapper to right-center by Colby Rasmus with two runners on.

"Not many people know the game well enough to know that a player makes plays behind you a lot of people wouldn't be able to get to," Buchholz said of Bradley. "He saves a lot of runs with the jumps he gets on balls. It's amazing how talented he is at that position."

Sox recall 3B Holt, DFA Roberts

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox designated infielder Ryan Roberts for assignment on Friday and have recalled Brock Holt from Triple-A Pawtucket.

Holt, in Friday’s lineup batting ninth and playing third, is making his second trip to Boston this season, after having been called up April 6 for one game. Holt did not appear during his first stint, but manager John Farrell hopes that this time around he can provide an offensive spark for the club.

“We felt like we needed to try to create a little bit of a jump-start to the offense,” Farrell said. “We’ve come through a stretch of seven left-handed starters against us over the past 10 and we’re kind of reversing that right now, going against primarily right-handers.”

Holt, a left-handed hitter, has been off to a hot start for Pawtucket, collecting a team-high 19 hits in his first 50 at-bats on his way to a .380 batting average. Thirteen of his hits have come against right-handers, making him a valuable piece for the team; the Red Sox are lined up to face three right-handed starters during their four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles.

“He’s clearly earned the promotion here,” Farrell said. “When he was sent out, even after one day of being here with the big league club, I think he was initially disappointed, but he’s channeled that the right way, gone down and played very well on the left side of the infield.”

Roberts collected two hits in his 19 at-bats with the team, striking out seven times. Farrell said the team would like for him to remain in the organization following being placed on waivers.

“He had about a nine-day layoff from the end of spring training until he joined us here,” Farrell said. “We feel like he needs at-bats to get things going.”

Holt’s second stint with the club may also be for a short period of time because third baseman Will Middlebrooks (calf) is on track to start his rehab assignment sometime in the middle of next week. After dealing with the flu earlier this week, Middlebrooks was in the clubhouse Friday and has improved, according to Farrell.

Meanwhile, outfielder Shane Victorino (hamstring) is also with the club and is participating in a full team workout Friday. Victorino is expected to begin his rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday.

Uehara update: After pitching Thursday night for the first time since April 9, closer Koji Uehara is available if needed Friday night. Uehara, who missed a week battling shoulder stiffness, threw a scoreless ninth inning Thursday to notch his third save of the season.

Sizemore in left: For the first time in his nine-year career, outfielder Grady Sizemore will play left field at Fenway Park on Friday night. Farrell said that despite Sizemore's unfamiliarity with the Green Monster, the decision was made based on Daniel Nava’s ability to play right field at Fenway.

After making his first seven starts in center field, Sizemore will be making his sixth straight appearance in left this season.

Quick hits: Koji back, Bogie off Twitter

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
CHICAGO -- A few quick hits from the Cell, where the best thing that can be said in advance of Thursday night's game between the Red Sox and White Sox is that there is no way it can be worse than Wednesday night's 5 hour-and-17 minute abomination:

• Closer Koji Uehara, who has not pitched since last Wednesday against the Rangers because of stiffness in the back of his right shoulder, is available to close Thursday, manager John Farrell said.

• Outfielder Shane Victorino will work out with the Red Sox upon the team's return to Boston on Friday, Farrell said, and the plan is for him to head out on a three-game rehab assignment, most likely in Pawtucket. The plan is for Victorino to play Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, and at that point the team will decide whether to activate him. There is a chance Victorino will be back before the end of the Yankees' series. Pawtucket does not play this Sunday because of Easter; the PawSox will have a doubleheader Saturday.

• Infielder Will Middlebrooks, who is eligible to come off the DL on Sunday but has yet to go out on rehab assignment, was sent back to Boston Thursday with a 102 degree temperature and other flu-like symptoms, Farrell said.

• Farrell said he had spoken with Xander Bogaerts regarding his Twitter account, which the 21-year-old rookie shut down after Wednesday night tweeting a picture of a young woman taking a selfie while posing provocatively in front of what appeared to be a hotel bathroom mirror.

"We're confident it was one-time mistake," said Farrell, who termed the incident "unfortunate" but said Bogaerts had acknowledged it and "learned from it."

• Left-handed reliever Chris Capuano, the West Springfield native who earned his first win with the Red Sox with 2 2/3 innings relief Wednesday night, is not available to pitch Thursday night after appearing in each of the first two games here. It was the first time in Capuano's career that he had pitched on back-to-back days.

Capuano, signed after veteran Ryan Dempster announced he would not pitch in 2014, has been unscored upon in his first seven appearances out of the Sox pen. In six of those appearances, the score was either tied or the Sox were either a run ahead or behind. In nine innings, he has allowed just five hits and a walk while striking out eight.

"We had every intention of getting him out after the second inning, but he was adamant -- he wanted to stay in," Farrell said of the 36-year-old left-hander. "He's given us such dependability in a short time down there, with his strike-throwing, and he's able to get right-handed hitters and left-handers out with equal success. He's added to the overall depth of the bullpen. He's been very good.

"The biggest thing is his ability to throw multiple pitches, he and [Craig Breslow] are similar in that they take a starter's approach and use a number of different type of pitches. They've been dependable."