Orioles get first glimpse at Uehara
In first bullpen session, righty impresses teammates, coaches
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- One flimsy chain-link fence separated a media horde from perhaps the most closely monitored bullpen session in franchise history. Two-time Sawamura Award winner Koji Uehara made his first mound appearance as an Oriole on Monday, turning a remote area of Fort Lauderdale Stadium into center stage.
Uehara, the first Japanese player to sign with the Orioles, threw to catcher Gregg Zaun in front of several team executives and 40 reporters who were all anxious to see what he could do. The right-hander threw approximately 50 pitches, concentrating on fastball command and spotting both his forkball and curveball.
"For the first real look at him, I was very impressed," said pitching coach Rick Kranitz. "He looks like he has [better-than] above-average command of his fastball, and I was certainly impressed on what he was trying to do. I could see he was working on things. I was a little surprised, in a good way, that he has a cut fastball. To me, that's going to be a tremendous help for him in this league. ... But his command was as good as anyone I've ever had."
One veteran scribe who's covered the Orioles for two decades could think of only one near-precedent for the interest surrounding Uehara, and that was franchise icon Jim Palmer's aborted comeback attempt in 1991. Uehara is different in that he's a star in his homeland, but one moving out of his prime and into a more advanced league.
And so, a massive group of reporters -- Japanese and American alike -- were allowed into the screened-in bullpen, where they were able to watch the mound sessions of four pitchers simultaneously. All of the attention was trained on Uehara, though, who started leisurely and began popping the glove toward the end of his session.
Uehara began by throwing fastballs, displaying pinpoint accuracy and hitting the glove over and over again. The veteran's forkball displayed late life, often bouncing in front of the plate and caroming off Zaun's pads. The slow breaking ball was a little more wild, but Baltimore's starting catcher and manager came away impressed.
"From what I saw today, it's definitely above-average Major League stuff," said Zaun. "You couple that with the fact that he has the ability to throw the ball pretty much wherever he wants to. He changes the speeds pretty well, and his split, for the first day, was pretty darn good. I imagine when he gets to feeling better and his arms in shape, it will have even more bite. ... He's everything as advertised, to me. I can see why he had so much success over there."
|"The next step is to see him throw batting practice and then let him pitch in a game. I've seen him on DVD, but he's much more impressive pitching in person. He's very fluid and he makes it look very easy. The ball comes out of his hand, and I think whoever his catcher is will enjoy catching him because he's right there."|
|-- Manager Dave Trembley, on Koji Uehara|
"One, it looks like he's done it before," said manager Dave Trembley. "He's able to repeat his delivery, and that's probably what's allowed him to have the success that he's had. He repeats his delivery, and he makes it look easy. I don't think he broke a sweat. And obviously, that has occurred because he's worked very hard. You can tell."
Uehara, for his part, said that his outing went "OK" for a first session and that he was a little concerned with his forkball, which didn't dive as much as he'd like. Uehara also said that the massive media attention -- which included several television cameras, still photographers and a boom microphone -- didn't affect him.
"With the [Yomiuri] Giants, there would be more people watching," Uehara said via translator Jiwon Bang. "It didn't really bother me."
Uehara threw more than most of his teammates, and Kranitz said he had no problem allowing the pitcher to sculpt his own preparatory schedule. Zaun said that he expects to bring Uehara out to dinner on Tuesday night with several teammates in an effort to get to know him better and make him feel more comfortable.
Zaun made a point of seeking Uehara out this morning and making sure that he caught his side session, mostly so that he could prove to him that he could corral the forkball. Trembley, who only watched the beginning of Uehara's mound work, said that he looks forward to monitoring his progress over the rest of the exhibition season.
"The next step is to see him throw batting practice and then let him pitch in a game," Trembley said. "I've seen him on DVD, but he's much more impressive pitching in person. He's very fluid and he makes it look very easy. The ball comes out of his hand, and I think whoever his catcher is will enjoy catching him because he's right there."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.