Koji Uehara

Observations from JetBlue Park: Koji Uehara, Matt Barnes stumble; Mike Napoli has dreamy day

Rob Bradford
March 14, 2015 - 1:17 pm
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Fort Myers, Fla. -- Saturday did nothing to make anybody feel the Red Sox bullpen's potentially murky picture was any clearer. The two Red Sox pitchers to surrender runs in a 5-2 loss to the Pirates at JetBlue Park, Koji Uehara and Matt Barnes, are both considered intriguing pieces of the relief pitching puzzle. For Uehara, his third outing of the spring was perhaps his least impressive, allowing one run on three hits over his inning. The Red Sox closer escaped further damage in the fourth inning thanks to a nifty double play in which Jackie Bradley's throw home was intercepted by catcher Blake Swihart, who doubled off Pittsburgh's Tony Sanchez at third. The problem was that not only did Uehara uncharacteristically pitch without great command, but doubles by Starling Marte and Pedro Florimon, along with a Sanchez single, weren't exactly cheapies. After the game, both Red Sox manager John Farrell offered his explanation for the outing. "He'€™s using his cutter a little bit probably in some counts that might not otherwise be, particularly where he'€™s finishing a hitter off where he'€™s gone to his split so often. No concern there," Farrell said. "He'€™s just using a third pitch a little bit more here in camp." Uehara was more succinct. "Yes, of course," the closer said when asked if he is trying to refine things. "My control, everything, yeah." Just to note: Uehara didn't allow a run in his previous 15 2/3 spring training innings with the Red Sox over 2013-14, giving up a total of four hits while striking out 19 and walking three. Thus far, the reliever has allowed two runs on seven hits over three frames. As for Barnes, who continues to be stretched out as a starter with the organization not closing the door on starting the season in the majors as a reliever, he fell victim to some uneven fastball location. Still flashing a 97 mph fastball and effective curve, Barnes almost got out of a second and third jam during his second inning of work, but couldn't quite translate a slow roller just past the mound into an inning-ending double play. Instead the Pirates scored the go-ahead run, leading to the righty not limiting the damage and giving up a two-run single on a mislocated first-pitch fastball. Barnes' day included two innings in which he surrendered "The leadoff walk [in the eighth inning] has been a little uncharacteristic of the way he'€™s thrown the ball in the spring," Farrell said. "Even though it'€™s been three appearances, he'€™s got strikeout ability. Whether or not he comes in in the middle of an inning at some point in the future to creating his own traffic on the basepaths, there'€™s the ability to record a strikeout. I just thought there was not the same, he missed with four straight fastballs, which, as we said, has been a little bit uncharacteristic of the spring." For now, Barnes remains on target to begin 2015 as a starter. "Well, I'm going through the normal five-day routine, going through it as a starter, going through pregame routine as a starter," he said. "It's a little different having to sit for six innings and then go out there and try to throw three as a starter. But at the end of the day, it's pitching, whether it's the first and the second or the seventh and the eighth. Just got to go out there and lock in and pitch when I'm told to pitch." - Mike Napoli continued to turn in a strong spring, this time highlighting the Red Sox' offensive output by taking Pittsburgh starter Gerrit Cole deep twice over the left field wall. "I mean, I was banged up last year, too," said Napoli, who is now hitting .467 in Grapefruit League action. "I was dealing with my toe, my finger, I had some back issues going on, I had a lot of things going on last year. Overall, I'm healthy right now. I've got energy. I'm sleeping at night. It's totally different. The way I feel now to how I did before is good for me." For an idea of some of the dreams Napoli have been having thanks to his newfound sleep patterns, click here. - Less than 24 hours after making a great diving catch against the Yankees on the first batter of the game, Mookie Betts did it again. This time the Red Sox' center fielder robbed Jeff Decker with a diving catch in right-center. "It'€™s hard to say because he made such improvement each of the three times he came to us last year, so you'€™re almost anticipating further growth. We'€™re seeing it," Farrell said. "He loves to ask questions. He'€™s always trying to learn. I think as he'€™s gotten more comfortable in center field, the breaks and the reads are much more direct and efficient." Prior to the game, Betts talked about the difference between trying the outfield last season compared to this time around. "Yes, it does," said Betts when asked if it feels like a long time since he was an infielder, which was the case at this time last season. "It feels like I'€™ve been out there for a long time. Just because of how much work I put in, even in the offseason where I was long-tossing and having people hit me fly balls. It seems like I'€™ve been out there for a long time. At this point last year I was an infielder and I'€™m happy where I'€™m at now. I know I still have a long way to go, but I'€™m happy with the strides I'€™ve made to get where I'€™m at. I know I have a long way to go and there'€™s a lot more to learn." - Red Sox starter Henry Owens got out of a jam in his third inning, stranding two runners thanks to a strike out of Gregory Polanco. Owens' most effective pitch, by far, during his three-inning outing was the lefty's curveball. "More consistent shape and a little bit later action than a year ago," Farrell said of Owens' curve. "We don'€™t see him during the season, or haven'€™t yet. You get comparisons a year apart. A guy that'€™s more physical, gaining some strength, which is gaining some tightness to the breaking ball. We'€™ve seen it not only today with Polanco but in his previous outings as well. He'€™s on such a good developmental path. It'€™s kind of exciting to watch a young guy starting to come into his own." - On the injury front, Rusney Castillo (oblique) is slated to take live batting practice in the coming days, while Robbie Ross' next outing will be pushed back a few days to recover from some knee soreness. - The Red Sox will start Wade Miley in Clearwater Sunday against the Phillies. (A game that can be heard on the WEEI Sports Radio Network starting at 1 p.m.) Following Miley will be Justin Masterson, along with Brandon Workman, Noe Ramirez, Heath Hembree, Tommy Layne, Dana Eveland and Dalier Hinojosa. Going for the Phillies will be Cuban Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who the Red Sox had their eyes on before he signed a three-year, $12 million deal with Philadelphia. Jonathan Papelbon is also expected to pitch.

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