Red Sox notes: Koji Uehara believes he can handle the load; Grady Sizemore prepares to play; Daniel Nava's pain in the neck

February 24, 2014 - 9:46 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A year ago, the expectations for Koji Uehara were limited. The Red Sox had signed him to a one-year, $4.25 million deal (with an unreported vesting option for the same amount) with the idea that he could deliver dominant innings if and when he was healthy. But given that he'd averaged just 48 innings a year in his prior three seasons (during which he had a 2.36 ERA, 11.4 strikeouts and 1.1 walks per nine innings), it would have been hard to foresee his emergence as the most dominant closer in baseball in 2013, a pitcher who allowed just 10 runs in 88 innings between the regular season and postseason (good for a sterling 1.02 ERA) while producing an astounding 117 strikeouts and nine walks (a 13:1 rate), or his place as the pitcher who was hoisted skyward after recording the final out of a World Series. So, naturally, Uehara -- once a star in Japan for the Yomiuri Giants -- must have been treated to a conquering hero's welcome upon his return to his native country after the season. Right? "Nothing has changed at all. ... Really," shrugged Uehara (through translator C.J. Matsumoto. "I think me and [Junichi Tazawa] just lack the star power." He said that he had some parties with family members to celebrate the season, but otherwise, there was no real fanfare for what he accomplished. Uehara did appear in commercials for a beer, Suntory Premium Malt's ("Please try it!" Uehara exhorted; the commercials can be seen here), and he also wrote a book, but otherwise, there was little dwelling on the season with the Sox. Did he feel as if he wasn't getting enough credit? "I don't care about what people think," he said. "Every year is a challenge. I try to make that motivation to be better." Uehara said that he's taking nothing for granted in his preparations for 2014, including the idea that he will be the Red Sox closer. "I feel that I still have to earn it," he said, thus raising the question of what on earth he would have to do to prove that he was indeed worthy of it. "I'm just preparing accordingly to win that position." Naturally, given his prior health history in the big leagues, there will be questions about whether he can remain healthy in the closer's role for a second straight year. Uehara suggested that he feels up to the task. "I haven't changed anything to prepare for this season and we'll see how it goes," he said. "I feel prepared. I think I can withstand the workload but we'll see." At this stage, at least, the 38-year-old (who turns 39 in the first week of the season) appears healthy as he builds towards the start of the 2014 campaign. "I was impressed with the arm speed he had in the bullpen before live [batting practice]," said Sox manager John Farrell. "He feels fresh physically. As we'€™ve come to known, he'€™s a standup guy and there are no excuses. It was even refreshing to hear his comments that I don'€™t want to be given anything, I have to go out and earn my job again." OTHER RED SOX NOTES -- Daniel Nava has been unable to swing due to some discomfort in his neck. The outfielder said that he's taking a cautious approach now in order to get the matter completely resolved. "It's just a minor little thing I'm working on," he said. "There's no point of going too fast and then all of a sudden we're set back two or three weeks. I've been out there for ground balls, throwing, shagging fly balls. The final step will be just getting swings down to make sure everything is good to go." Nava didn't have a precise diagnosis for his condition. "I've got problems with my neck. That's what I've got," said Nava. "We're trying to get the bottom of that. I actually don't know. I just woke up one day and I'm having hard time looking at the pitcher, and even a harder time swinging. Those are two things I've got to do and I couldn't do them very well." -- Grady Sizemore, who has not played in a game since 2011, will play in the Red Sox' exhibition opener against Northeastern University on Thursday afternoon.