ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, never one to hide his emotions, peaked his excitement meter when Koji Uehara struck out left-handed hitting Dustin Ackley on a splitter down in the zone to end the eighth inning.
Why? Because not only did Uehara keep the score 2-1 in a critical, late-inning situation, but he's establishing himself as an important bullpen piece for the playoffs. Uehara got all three batters he faced in that eighth inning and threw nine pitches -- all of them strikes. He had two strikeouts and his splitter was extremely effective.
Washington and the rest of the coaching staff don't want to get ahead of things. But this is an evaluation period for the final roster decisions that must be made, assuming the Rangers clinch a playoff spot in the next few weeks. And right now, Uehara's stock is soaring.
Friday was the fourth consecutive game in which he's pitched. It's the first time in his big league career he's done that. After allowing a single to the only batter he faced Tuesday, Uehara has been impressive in three straight games in difficult situations. He retired three batters -- all of them left-handed -- to preserve a three-run lead in the eighth Wednesday with Mike Adams unavailable. On Thursday, he got the final three batters of the ninth after closer Joe Nathan blew the save.
All three batters he faced Friday were left-handed hitters. Washington was impressed.
"We knew what Koji had, it was just a matter of him getting out there and seeing hitters," Washington said. "He's keeping the fastball down in the zone. His split is working real well. He's breaking out his slider, though not using it a whole lot. He's always been a strike thrower. He was on the DL and he's getting an opportunity to face hitters and the more hitters he faces, the better he'll be."
Washington was pleased with Uehara's pitch count over the four days and added that he looked "very strong" Friday. He's become a real weapon against left-handed batters. Don't underestimate how important that could be come playoff time.