Why Koji Uehara Is Just What the Texas Rangers Need

Micah PowellCorrespondent IIIJuly 31, 2011

BOSTON, MA - JULY 10:  Koji Uehara #19 of the Baltimore Orioles delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox  on July 10, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.The Boston Red Sox defeated the Baltimore Orioles 8-6.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The Texas Rangers finally made a deal for a reliever Saturday, but not the one expected. The Rangers traded away Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to the Orioles for Koji Uehara, potentially ending discussions with the Padres and Heath Bell.

At first glance it appears the Rangers gave up too much for a guy who is not Heath Bell or Mike Adams. Chris Davis has been a Triple-A monster this year but has been blocked at the majors by a combination of Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland. Tommy Hunter was the Rangers fourth starter in the postseason last year and has 23 career wins.

 While Uehara is not the big name or the flashy fire-baller, he has been one of the best relievers in all of baseball this year. Uehara has a 1.72 ERA with a 0.72 WHIP in 43 games for the O's, striking out 62 batters in 47 innings. Even more impressive is that he owns these numbers while playing a majority of his schedule against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Think of what he could do in the weak-hitting AL West.

Batters just cannot figure out Uehara. Right-handed hitters are hitting just .171 while the lefties are having even less success at .136. Uehara appears to be the right-handed setup man now for the Rangers although flame-thrower Mark Lowe could see some time in the eighth inning. Uehara instantly improves a struggling bullpen that currently has an ERA comfortably in the mid-fours.

With Uehara, the Rangers acquired a guy that tops out on the radar gun around 89 mph and really only uses two pitches. But with those two pitches he has dominated hitters with his precise control. In the last two years combined he has walked only 13 batters while striking out 117.

While the need for Heath Bell is diminished at the moment, the Rangers are still in play for the hefty reliever. By acquiring Uehara without giving up prospects, the Rangers remain perfectly positioned to acquire Bell, although they are balking at the Padres asking price of prospects Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland.