Uehara throws off mound for first time
O's hurler puts team first with willingness to work in any role
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara threw off the mound for the first time on Tuesday and said he is ready to assume whatever role the Orioles need.
Uehara said he had no pain in his right elbow -- as he works back from a partial tear of his flexor tendon -- in the session at Twin Lakes Park, which is the Orioles' Minor League facility.
"Compared to last year, it feels really good," said Uehara, who also confirmed that his previously strained left hamstring hasn't given him any problems.
The 34-year-old, who is the first Japanese-born player in Baltimore's history, had an injury-plagued debut with the Orioles last season. He missed two weeks in Spring Training on account of his hamstring, before going on the disabled list with the same injury in late May. Uehara returned to the DL on June 24 with a sore right elbow, and spent more than two months attempting to get his elbow back to pitching condition. After an extensive throwing program at Twin Lakes, he was diagnosed with the tendon tear and the Orioles sent Uehara home to Japan in mid-September.
With a projected rotation of Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman, plus last year's starters David Hernandez and Jason Berken, the Orioles could use Uehara out of the bullpen instead.
On Wednesday afternoon, Uehara said he has not spoken to manager Dave Trembley or any of the Orioles about being a reliever, but it is a role he would take in stride.
"It's all about the team, team first," he said through interpreter Jiwon Bang. "So as long as the team wants me to [pitch out of the bullpen], I'll follow."
Uehara went 2-4 with a 4.05 ERA in 12 Major League starts last season, but he has had bullpen experience in Japan, including spending one season as a closer. If Uehara can stay healthy, he could serve a myriad of roles out of Baltimore's 'pen, such as multi-inning bridge reliever or late-inning setup man.
"My goal this year is to stay in the Major Leagues for the whole season," Uehara said. "So, we will see what happens."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.