For whatever reason, many people are looking at right-handed reliever Koji Uehara of the Baltimore Orioles and saying that the Orioles need to sign him for next season and make him their full-time closer.
I honestly don't understand why.
Uehara is a fine pitcher. He's got great stuff and he's still fairly new to the league, so batters haven't seen a lot of him. He can shut down a lineup for an inning. He did a nice job filling in as the ninth-inning guy for the O's towards the end of last season, saving 13 games in 15 opportunities. But there are a few things that worry me.
The first thing is obvious: his durability. The Orioles signed him prior to the 2009 season to give him a shot at starting. That experiment failed quickly, with Koji getting injured and making only 12 starts while logging 66.2 innings.
This year he was brought in as a reliever and again injured himself. He seems to have a hard time pitching on back-to-back days, and can hardly pitch for more than an inning. Buck Showalter has to manage Koji's pitch count carefully to not wear him out.
One theory is that he can't handle the humidity of the U.S. after pitching almost his whole career in Japan. He'll also be turning 36 two days after Opening Day 2011.
I also feel that he hasn't proven he is completely capable of shutting down the best lineups in baseball, considering his two blown saves this past season were against the strong New York Yankees offense following game-winning homers. He has great stuff and can be an effective pitcher, but he isn't over-powering and doesn't have the intimidation factor that many closers, like the Yankees' Mariano Rivera and San Francisco Giants' Brian Wilson, have.
To me, Koji has much to prove before he can be handed the closer role and trusted to shut down teams whose offenses can turn a game around with one swing of the bat—such as the Yankees, Rays, and Rangers—with a one-run lead. I say either give Michael Gonzalez the shot to do what he was brought in to do, since he has a proven track record in that department, or go outside of the team and sign or trade for someone to take over the ninth-inning duties.
I do think that Koji should be re-signed and assist Jim Johnson in the setup job. The O's can make him the closer later in the season if he proves to be healthy and effective.
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