Sunday, July 31, 2011
Koji Uehara, 2010 Topps National Chicle #177
I am pretty ambivalent about D. Lee, who spent most of his four months in Baltimore either a) injured or b) performing below his career standards. He seemed like he was starting to heat up at bat, but after playing defense at first base that was pretty stellar (at least to the naked eye) for much of the season, he seemed to start booting balls at the most inopportune of times during the team's recent skid. Seemed like a nice enough guy, but ultimately his Oriole career consists of 85 games with a batting line of .246/.302/.404, 15 doubles, 12 home runs, and 41 RBI. No less, no more.
I'm truly sorry that I won't get to watch the O's first-ever Japanese import do his thing out of the bullpen any more. A dominant setup man is a luxury that is sort of lost on a losing team, so Andy MacPhail did well to get two major league-ready players from the Rangers for Koji. The nagging pessimist that the Birds always seem to bring out in me says that corner infielder Chris Davis is most likely a quadruple-A player, Mark Reynolds with less of a big league pedigree. And Tommy Hunter is no one's idea of a front-line pitcher, but he's got a lot more going for him than many of the stiffs who have taken the mound for this club in 2011.
But I digress. I read about Koji tearing up while he said his goodbyes to players, coaches, and reporters last night, and it touched me. At age 34, he left behind everything he'd known to come play in America for the Orioles, and he really seemed to fit in here better than many other Japanese players before him. He was even photographed at a Ravens game last year wearing a purple Ray Lewis jersey. On the field, he was a force of nature once the O's moved him to the bullpen and freed him from worries about fatigue. Over the past two seasons, he appeared in 86 games with a 2.27 ERA and an 0.82 WHIP. He picked up 13 saves last year, and walked only 13 batters in 91 innings in that span (1.3 BB/9 IP). Most amazingly, he struck out 117 hitters, for a K/9 IP of 11.6 and a K-to-BB ratio of exactly 9. He just pounds the strike zone, and uses his excellent control and movement to keep hitters off-balance.
If there's a silver lining, I am thrilled to have the chance to see Koji doing his thing in the postseason - as a bullpen-mate of Arthur Rhodes, no less! Assuming that Texas can hold off the Angels down the stretch, I might have to become a Rangers fan for October.