TORONTO — Here’s a safe bet: The first pitch Koji Uehara threw in the 10th inning here Tuesday night was the most lucrative pitch of his career.
By appearing in his 55th game this season for the Red Sox, Uehara guaranteed that the option on his contract will vest. Rather than becoming a free agent, the closer is under contract with the Sox for next year.
“I’m looking forward to meeting you (reporters) again next year,” Uehara said with a laugh.
The Red Sox will be happy to have him. Uehara has been nothing short of dominant, posting a 1.32 ERA and an otherworldly 75-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Since he was installed as closer, he has yielded six hits and allowed one earned run in 24 2/3 innings in 23 appearances, including 11/3 scoreless innings Tuesday night in an 11-inning, 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays.
When the Red Sox chose Uehara to replace ineffective closer Andrew Bailey in June, their chief concern was whether the 38-year-old would be suited to handle a potentially increased workload. But in a twist, closing may actually be easier on Uehara’s body.
“By moving to the closer’s role, he knows when he’s going to pitch,” manager John Farrell said. “I have to believe there is some mental preparation that goes into that outing on a given night, not wondering if it’s the seventh or eighth. He can gear up and prepare the two innings leading up to it.”
Uehara has been so good that the Red Sox didn’t even consider dealing for a closer before the July 31 trade deadline, choosing instead to concentrate on fortifying the bridge to the ninth inning by assimilating minor league starters Drake Britton, Brandon Workman, and most recently, Rubby De La Rosa into the bullpen along with set-up man Junichi Tazawa and veteran lefties Craig Breslow and Franklin Morales.
And about that workload? Uehara has topped 20 pitches in an outing only one time since taking over as closer and has been so efficient that he’s been able to pitch in back-to-back games six times and on three consecutive days once.
“I feel that all the teammates, staff members, they’ve been taking good care of me,” Uehara said. “I think that absolutely has contributed to my success here.”
Said Farrell, “He’s been an outstanding pitcher for us from Day 1. We don’t foresee that changing because of the competitor he is and how talented he is and how he prepares. He’s done one hell of a job in the roles that he’s filled. Gosh, you can’t take away from how efficient he’s been. He’s been a savior for us.”
Clay’s next test
Clay Buchholz (shoulder) threw what Farrell termed a “lighter side” session, but a bigger test comes today when the right-hander gets on the bullpen mound for a “more aggressive” workout. The Red Sox are hopeful Buchholz will even simulate a break between innings. ...
Lefty reliever Matt Thornton threw off flat ground Tuesday and didn’t exhibit any symptoms from the sore left oblique that landed him on the disabled list last week. ...
Once-promising outfielder Ryan Kalish’s injury woes continue. Kalish underwent cervical fusion surgery Monday, his fourth procedure since the 2011 season. Farrell described the surgery as “invasive and drastic,” although the Sox are hopeful Kalish will be ready to play by spring training.
“That’s unfortunate,” Farrell said. “Obviously it’s (an injury) of some severity, and hopefully through the rehab, he gets back to the player that he was when he first came up because it was an exciting young player.” ...
Backup catcher David Ross continued his minor league rehab assignment by starting behind the plate Tuesday night for Triple-A Pawtucket.