BALTIMORE (AP) — Koji Uehara is thankful for the faith, patience and money bestowed upon him by the Baltimore Orioles.
He’s also sick of losing.
So as Sunday’s non-waiver trade deadline draws near, the highly effective reliever has mixed feelings about his chances of being dealt from a last-place team to a contender.
“I love it here, obviously,” Uehara said through an interpreter. “I love the Baltimore Orioles, but it’s not going to be any fun if we don’t win. That’s the dilemma.”
After a successful 10-year run with the Yomiuri Giants, Uehara signed a $10 million, two-year contract with Baltimore in January 2009 and became the Orioles’ first Japanese player. He was initially employed as a starter, but pitched in only 12 games during his rookie season because of hamstring and elbow injuries.
The right-hander returned as a reliever last year and registered 13 saves and a 2.86 ERA despite spending two months on the disabled list.
After signing an incentive-laden $3 million contract during the offseason, the 36-year-old Uehara has become Baltimore’s most dependable pitcher.
Used primarily in the eighth inning, Uehara had a 1.08 ERA in his last 30 games through Tuesday, including 11 straight scoreless appearances. He leads AL relievers with a 7.38 walk-to-strikeout ratio, and his career ratio of 6.48 is the best in baseball history since 1890 for those who have thrown at least 150 innings.
His effectiveness can be attributed in part to careful planning by Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who went through great lengths to keep the fragile pitcher healthy. Showalter limited Uehara’s work in spring training, avoided using him in successive games early in the season and won’t get Uehara up in the bullpen unless there’s a good chance he will be used in the game.
“So far, so good,” Showalter said. “We’ve been very careful almost to fault with him and gotten a good return for the way he’s been used. He’s certainly valuable to us, and we’re sure there’s some people that covet him, too. I can see why there are rumors that somebody might be interested in him because there are not many relievers having a better year statistically than Koji.”
Uehara has made 41 appearances this season, 14 short of the number that would launch a $4 million vesting option for the 2012 season.
He certainly intends to pitch next season, but there’s a part of him that wishes it would be elsewhere. After all, the Orioles are in the midst of what almost certainly will be their 14th consecutive losing season, and there’s no reason to believe there will be a quick turnaround anytime soon.
“My performance, obviously, is satisfying, but it doesn’t translate into team wins, so that’s kind of frustrating,” Uehara said. “To be mentioned and to hear my name in the rumors, I look at it as a good thing.”
Although he and his family have made Baltimore their home, Uehara doesn’t see that as an obstacle.
“They love it here,” he said. “But if I have to go somewhere, I can leave my family and they can stay here.”
Uehara has been a gem buried in the rubble of another miserable season for the Orioles. He’s proud of the way he’s pitched, but mostly he’s delighted to have avoided a dreaded trip to the DL.
“The fact that I’m playing healthy, that’s satisfying,” he said. “I’m really excited about that.”
His focus in the days ahead will be to help the Orioles, even though he knows he could be packing his bags within the week.
“I’m not really thinking about that,” he insisted. “They are just rumors, right?”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)