PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Koji Uehara's comeback from an injury-shortened rookie season is off to an encouraging start.
The Baltimore reliever worked one perfect inning during Thursday's 6-5 spring training loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, his first game action since being sidelined last June with tendinitis in his right elbow."It's been a while, so I was thinking about how I would throw, and I felt good," Uehara, who hadn't pitched since June 23, said through an interpreter. He only needed eight pitches to retire Fernando Perez, Gabe Kapler and Carl Crawford.The Orioles' first Japanese-born player made 12 starts in 2009, going 2-4 with a 4.05 ERA. He's expected to work out of the bullpen this season, a role he became familiar with as a closer for the Yomiuri Giants late in his career in Japan."Obviously the role is different, but I have done this before," the 34-year-old Uehara said. "No challenges. I'm not worried about it."Matt Joyce's base-loaded single off Mike Hinckley with one out in the bottom of the ninth won it for the Rays, who rebounded from the previous day's 12-2 exhibition-opening loss to the Orioles.Sean Rodriguez hit a two-run homer off Baltimore starter Brian Matusz, who struck out four of five batters before facing the former Angels prospect obtained by Tampa Bay as part of a trade that sent pitcher Scott Kazmir to Anaheim last season.Felix Pie and Justin Turner hit solo home runs for the Orioles, giving them eight homers off Rays pitching in two games. Pie homered off Rays starter Jeff Niemann in the first inning and tripled off Joaquin Benoit in the third before leaving the game.Baltimore manager Dave Trembley removed Pie after the outfielder favored his left leg rounding second base."When he came in, he said: 'I could have played.' I said, you had a home run and a triple, I didn't need to see anything more," Trembley said. "He's scheduled to play Saturday in Lakeland (against Detroit), and I think he'll be able to do that."The Rays open their spring training schedule with four straight games against AL East rivals and will face division foes 16 times in 32 exhibitions overall.That means by the end of the regular season, they will face the Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays 88 times -- far too often for manager Joe Maddon's comfort, although he's not complaining about being in baseball's toughest division."By the end of this season we're going to play them nearly 100 times, then hopefully some more in the playoffs. ... I love the fact of being in this division, I just don't like the fact of playing your opposition that often," Maddon said.Before the Orioles relocated their spring home from Fort Lauderdale to nearby Sarasota this winter, the most exhibitions Tampa Bay played against division rivals was 12 in 2003."Preferably, you'd like to be able to try things against a National League team if you want to do anything," Maddon said. "It's not like you're going to go crazy trying to do a bunch of stuff, but there are items you'd rather keep in your back pocket. But the way the schedule sets up, it's virtually impossible."
Orioles 2B Brian Roberts has yet to play in spring training due to a back injury. Trembley said he doesn't know when he'll play. The manager said he's not worried, adding: "Today's March 4. If it's April 4, I'd be concerned." ... Niemann, 13-6 with a 3.94 ERA as a rookie last season, retired all six batters he faced after giving up Felix's homer to begin the game.