Uehara dazzling Orioles with control
Japanese import notches second spring start with positive results
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It takes a perfectionist to take that perspective.
Koji Uehara came away from his second Spring Training start bemoaning his control, an opinion that belied his three scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic's national team. Uehara faced a virtual All-Star lineup Wednesday and threw 23 of 36 pitches for strikes, prompting a different evaluation from his pitching coach.
"There's a different standard there, which is good," said Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz, who is just beginning to know what to expect from Uehara. "I think our guys look at him and say, 'Wow, he was unbelievable.' "
There's just no middle ground, and no muddled way to re-state the obvious. Uehara allowed just two hits against a lineup that boasted seven big league regulars and three veritable stars.
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez, designated hitter David Ortiz and third baseman Miguel Tejada -- who have 11 All-Star appearances between them -- formed a fearsome heart of the order for the Dominican, but Uehara ignored their reputations and simply pitched to the best of his control-oriented abilities.
"I understand there are a lot of big-name players," said Uehara via translator Jiwon Bang in response to a question about the Dominican's star-studded roster. "To get that kind of result, I'm happy with it."
Uehara, a two-time Sawamura Award winner in his native country, is still trying to get the lay of the land in the Major Leagues. The right-hander allowed leadoff singles in each of his first two innings Wednesday, but he managed to strand the runner at second base both times while mainly living off his fastball and split-finger.
The veteran's first five pitches went for strikes, and he rarely fell behind any of the Dominican's batters. But still, at the end of his three innings, he went down to the bullpen to work on his breaking ball.
"He wanted to get a little more feel for it and throw it for strikes," said manager Dave Trembley. "But I'll tell you what -- he can throw his split anytime he wants. And his split looks like a slider. It's really hard and it's late."
Uehara got Ramirez to pop out twice and retired Ortiz on a bullet line drive to deep right field. But when asked if he learned anything new about his new charge, Kranitz still shook his head.
"If anything, it told him something about himself, how he can pitch in this league with his stuff and what he can do," said Kranitz of Uehara. "There hasn't been a day that he hasn't had fastball command. I really wanted to look at the swings and see how these guys reacted on pitches. The fastball was beating guys.
"Regardless of how hard it was, the ball was getting in on them. And that says something for you."
Kranitz went on to say that the pitcher generally has an advantage when hitters haven't faced him before, but he also said that you just can't teach the kind of poise that Uehara has exhibited. And after seeing perhaps the best lineup he'll face all spring, Uehara can be reasonably certain that his approach will translate.
And that approach, simple as it may seem, is to get ahead of the hitter at all costs.
"I believe it's important to get a first strike," Uehara said of his philosophy. "Obviously, if a hitter is bound to swing at the first pitch, I'll try to start throwing outside or a ball. But I always want to start with a strike."
The Orioles would love to see him take that track, even if he gets hit from time to time. Baltimore has led the American League in walks in each of the last two years, and the extra runners have sent them spiraling toward the bottom of the league's ERA charts. Now, with Uehara in the fold, things may be beginning to change.
"That was a good lineup for him to face -- like the other guys, but especially for him," said Trembley. "This is his first time here. I think he'll pitch good against everybody, but it's good experience for him. I think he's probably pitched against the cream of the crop on the other side, and now he's done it here."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.