Koji Uehara

Why You Should Have Cared About Thursday's Red Sox Game: Koji Uehara and future ninth-inning uncertainty

September 04, 2014 - 6:38 pm
(For the final month of the regular season, '€˜€˜Closing Time'€™€™ will now be called '€˜€˜Why You Should Have Cared,'€™€™ looking beyond the final score '€” at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) '€” for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.) On Wednesday, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington suggested that he saw little cause for alarm in the recent struggles of closer Koji Uehara. "Not really a concern," said Cherington. "He's identified some things. [We] still see the finish on the fastball. It's probably been a little less consistent than what we're used to seeing, but he's gone through this before where he's corrected it. This couple of weeks or whatever, it's not the level he's used to, but I think it's more the outlier. '€¦ "He's obviously been a huge part of our success last year and our team this year," Cherington added. "He's certainly someone we'd like to have [beyond 2014]." Yet Uehara, who enjoyed one of the greatest runs in history from 2013 through roughly mid-August, remains mired in a stretch that raises questions about whether he can be the sort of reliable end-of-game force that he'd been through most of his Red Sox career. Uehara, entrusted with a 4-3 advantage in the ninth inning, gave up a pair of solo homers to the Yankees (one to Mark Teixeira, then a walkoff shot by Chase Headley). He's now permitted 10 runs in his last six outings spanning 4 2/3 innings with four homers allowed in that time. On the one hand, his struggles may well drive down his price as a free agent. On the other hand, assuming that Uehara is brought back to close again next year, the sense of certainty that surrounded his presence in the ninth inning will be somewhat eroded. OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT THURSDAY'S GAME -- Amidst a miserable season, there have been at least glimpses of greatness, most of them provided by one man. David Ortiz, at 38, is something of a marvel to the young teammates who are arriving in the big leagues and getting a chance to watch him work for the first time. The longtime heart of the heart of the Red Sox lineup has arrived at a moment in time when his understanding of what pitchers are trying to do to him exceeds virtually anything that the Sox' young pups have seen, permitting him to deliver a kind of mind-boggling impact that has him zooming through milestones and performing at a still-elite level. Thursday offered yet another example. Ortiz slammed a pair of homers against Yankees starter Chris Capuano to drive in three of the Sox' four runs. The homers were the 10th and 11th of the year for Ortiz against left-handers, tied for the second most of his career against southpaws and the most he's hit in a single season against lefties since 2006. Ortiz is now hitting .286 with a .368 OBP and .571 slugging mark against lefties this year. The Red Sox have plenty of questions about their lineup going forward. Ortiz is not among them. He remains the cornerstone of the Red Sox lineup, an ongoing hitting tutorial for every young player who arrives in the Red Sox clubhouse. -- Brandon Workman opened his big league career with a run unlike any by a Red Sox pitcher at the beginning of his career since World War II, delivering eight straight starts of five-plus innings in which he permitted no more than three runs. But he followed that with a more dismal stretch in which he suffered losses in eight straight appearances, the longest such run by a Sox pitcher since Red Ruffing in 1929. On Thursday, in his return from a brief trip to Triple-A, Workman snapped that spell with a solid effort, logging six innings in which he allowed three runs on five hits, walked two and punched out five. As much as Workman has struggled this year, his performance on Thursday offered a reminder of why he likely still belongs ahead of fellow rotation candidates like Anthony Ranaudo and Allen Webster. He's not afraid to throw strikes (he threw 68 percent of his 96 pitches in the strike zone) and he has the stuff to beat bats, with a solid-if-unspectacular 6.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Workman remains behind Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly and Rubby De La Rosa in the Red Sox starting pecking order. At a time when the Sox seem likely to pursue a pair of starters this offseason, there's a good chance that Workman won't be in next year's rotation to open the season. But he remains the sort of depth option that other teams would be more than happy to have available to them. -- Brock Holt homered against Capuano, his first homer in 206 career plate appearances against lefties. While the homer (which broke a 3-3 tie) represented a first against lefties, Holt continues to show surprising production this year against southpaws, something that has permitted him to forge his role as an everyday player rather than a platoon option. -- In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Xander Bogaerts attempted to bunt on three occasions with a runner on first. He fouled off the first two attempts (one in the second inning, one in the ninth), then bunted too hard back to the mound in the same ninth-inning attempt, but pitcher Adam Warren's inability to handle the bunt resulted in everyone being safe and Bogaerts getting credit for his second sacrifice of the year.