Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hello Koji Uehara fans.

I'm in the midst of a transition from Japan to the US now and I've been caught without the time to update here for a while. Once things settle down in the next few days, I'll post an update and a recap of all the pertinent news related to our hero.

Thanks for your patience and come back soon as I resume wall to wall coverage.

Mike Plugh

Friday, June 15, 2007

Uehara Starting Pitcher???

Reports today from Sanspo are speculating that Koji Uehara may have been giving the nod as starting pitcher for the Giants tonight against the SoftBank Hawks, as he was called over to Manager Hara for a 2 minute conference. Uehara appeared to be preparing himself early for the game with a warmup and stretching routine that would lend credence to the theory. I will keep my eyes on this game tonight and provide a recap for you in the event that he in fact has returned as a starter.

In his last outing, Uehara struck out 2 of 3 batters, working a 1-2-3 for his 9th save of the season and now sports an 18-2 K/BB ratio. It makes sense to get him back into the rotation and send one of the back end guys back to the pen. Big move.

UPDATE: Uehara isn't starting tonight. It will be Takahashi taking on SoftBank's Sugiuchi. That doesn't mean that Uehara won't get one of the starts against the Hawks though. I'll keep checking this weekend to update you when we know more.

UPDATE2: Uehara entered the game in the bottom of the 9th to save a 3-2 contest. The Giants scored 3 runs in the top of the 8th only to see the Hawks punch back in the bottom of the frame with 2 of their own. In the bottom of the 9th Uehara jammed Mitsuru Honma and got him to pop out to 3rd. He then got Nobuhiro Matsuda to bounce out to short, and ended the game with his 10th save by getting Japan's premier shortstop Munenori Kawakami to fly out to center. Outstanding again. You have to wonder if this appearance kills any chance of seeing Uehara start a game this week.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Another Day, Another Save

I had the pleasure of watching an interleague matchup between the 1st place Giants and the hottest team in Japan, the Nippon Ham Fighters. Until losing an extra innings affair a few days ago, the Fighters had won 14 straight. They went from the cellar in the Pacific to 2nd place in a hurry and look like the team that won the Japan Series last season. The Giants sent rookie sensation Kaneto to the mound against Nippon Ham's Takeda. The game was a pitching duel that went into the bottom of the 8th inning scoreless.

For the 2nd time in about a week, Kyojin bench man Yano hit a game winning, pinch hit home run. With the score 1-0 Giants, Uehara entered the top of the 9th looking to nail down a win with his 8th save. Pinch hitting, Tomohika Tsuboi put a charge into Uehara's belt high fastball and sent Damon Hollins to the wall to make the catch. Hollins had just shifted to right from center to make way for some defensive substitutions and the ball found him. Uehara spun his head furiously when the ball left the bat and watched, wincing, as it sailed for the wall. When Hollins hauled it in, he wiped his brow and exhaled. The former ace then struck out Oda looking, and induced a pinch hitting Kimoto to ground out to second. Another 1-2-3 inning for Uehara, a save, and a big win for Kaneto and Kyojin. Excellent pitching all around, and a very entertaining game.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Since my last post, we've seen Koji Uehara participate in two contests for the Giants as the closer. The season of intrigue continues as the impending free agent works from the pen to put opponents to bed. Don't mess with success must be the motto of the Yomiuri braintrust, and Uehara hasn't disappointed. Here are details of his two recent appearances:

June 3rd vs. Seibu

Uehara entered the 9th inning against Seibu with a 4-1 lead and the bottom half of the lineup coming up. He induced shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to fly out to left before giving up a line drive double to third baseman Norihito Ishii. That was all she wrote for Seibu as pinch hitting Oshima grounded out to the pitcher and center fielder Sato grounded to short.

1 IP, 1 hit, no walks, no strikeouts, no runs, SAVE

June 8th vs. Rakuten

This one is simple. Uehara faced "Rick", Ramirez, and Teppei and struck out "Rick", Ramirez, and Teppei. The first two were swinging and the final out was looking.

1 IP, no hits, no walks, 3 strikeouts, no runs, SAVE

Now, on the season, Uehara has appeared in 13 games and has the following line:

13.2 IP
9 hits
1 walk
15 strikeouts
0-1 with 7 saves
3.29 ERA
0.732 WHIP
5.9 hits/9
9.87 K/9
15.00 K/BB

Thursday, May 31, 2007

If you're waiting for updates on Koji Uehara's first start of 2007.....

you're going to have to keep on waiting. It appears as though the Giants have taken a liking to Uehara as a closer in the mold of John Smoltz. The man who is probably their best pitcher has skillfully entered the role of closer and now enters ballgames, close and late, to the sound of tremendous cheers. I don't know if Yomiuri will be able to continue using Uehara in this manner if their starting pitching falters, but to this point they are sitting pretty atop the Central League with the best record in the sport. Their frontline starters, including the young left hander Kaneto, have continued to impress and the team has elected to bolster a shaky pen by adding their best pitcher into a high leverage role. This reminds me a bit of the Phillies recent move to Brett Myers as a Tom Gordon replacement, despite posting a 137 ERA+ over recent times.

Uehara's current pitching line on the year is:

11 games
11.2 IP
0-1 record
5 saves
8 hits
2 HRs allowed
1 BB
12 K

The Ratios

3.86 ERA
.771 WHIP
12.00 K/BB
9.26 K/9
.186 BAA
.222 OBA
6.17 H/9
7.71 baserunners/9

So far his resume is impressive as the Giants closer. I wonder to myself each time he enters a game in relief what his conversion means to his prospects for a big MLB payday next season. As a premier starting pitcher, you have to figure that someone will pay Uehara something in the neighborhood of Igawa money. As a closer, does his value suddenly drop whether he ends up reclaiming a starting role for a Major League club? Has his value taken a hit? Would a Major League player, in what figures to be his last chance at a big payday, accept a move like this? Keep watching for more. I'll try to update Uehara Watch at least once a week from now on, whether it's for a handful of relief appearances or for a start. Any news related to Uehara's 2007 season and beyond will appear here as well. Keep comin' back!

Monday, May 14, 2007

What a relief!

So far this season, as I reported earlier, Koji Uehara has been pitching exclusively out of the bullpen. His hamstring rehab essentially consists of throwing on the side, and taking over late inning situations for the Giants. It's been a goo strategy that has helped the Yomiuri club finish off a number of wins on their way to the best record in the Central. Before the season started, it was hard to imagine that the Giants would be in 1st place at this point in the year, largely because they had a number of giant question marks in their rotation, not the least of which was the health of their ace.

Uehara has been lights out in the pen, after surrendering a run and a few hits in his debut. To date, his pitching line on the season is:

6 games
6 IP
21 batters faced
75 pitches
3 hits
no walks
5 strikeouts
1.50 ERA
0.500 WHIP
5.00 K/BB
7.50 K/9
3 saves

It will be good to see Uehara get his first start sometime soon, but in the meantime it's good to see that he's himself. Not a walk on the season to date. I'll keep my eyes peeled for his starting debut and you'll read about it all here soon enough.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

9th Inning Koji.

Apparently, the Giants are going to work Uehara back into the rotation by pitching him one inning at a time. For the second consecutive day the man of the hour entered a game more or less decided to get in a little work. Today, Uehara induced pinch hitter Hidenori to ground out to short, followed by leadoff man Ibata's ground out to third, and finally Araki duplicated the feat by weakly dribbling a grounder to Ogasawara at the hot corner for the final out of the game.

Uehara was more than economical, sitting down the Dragons 1-2-3 on 7 pitches. It's good to see him back on the mound finally, and I expect you'll see more quality work the rest of the way. Since there's not much to write about the latest one inning audition, I'll give you the breakdown on each of those batters.

Hidenori (.273/.250/.273 - 12 plate appearances)
1st pitch: 88mph fastball down the middle (out G6-3)

Ibata (.299/.380/.430 - 123 plate appearances)
1st pitch: 80mph cutter low and inside (ball one)
2nd pitch: 88mph fastball in (foul)
3rd pitch: 86mph shuuto away (out G5-3)

Araki (.243/.270/.279 - 119 plate appearances)
1st pitch: 75mph forkball low (ball one)
2nd pitch: 80mph forkball high (strike one)
3rd pitch: 81mph cutter in (out G5-3)

None of the speeds will knock your socks off, but that's Uehara. He puts pitches in spots you can't hit. I expect to see him get a few more innings like this before taking the mound for a start, but the Giants will probably fool me again by starting him tomorrow. Who knows? I'll be there when he pitches though. Stay tuned!