Any reference to the Orioles’ bullpen has to include Koji Uehara. And any reference to Koji Uehara has to include a mention of his health.
Uehara missed two weeks in spring training with a strained hamstring and went on the disabled list with the same injury in late May. He returned to the disabled list on June 24 with a sore right elbow, later diagnosed as a partial tear of the flexor tendon. The Orioles finally sent him home in September.
The last time we checked, Uehara was playing catch in Japan. It’s an encouraging sign that doesn’t guarantee anything once pitchers and catchers hold their first workout in Sarasota on Thursday.
We need to see Uehara throw from a mound. We need to see him run. We need to see him run a lot to improve his conditioning.
Uehara could evolve into an extremely valuable member of the bullpen, a guy capable of filling the Brian Bass role or maybe getting three key outs to pass a lead to Jim Johnson in the eighth. And the Orioles could turn to him if Mike Gonzalez slumps as the closer.
This can only happen if the elbow and hamstrings hold up.
Add Uehara on the list of intriguing camp storylines, but not for the same reason as last spring. The novelty has worn off. He’s become acclimated to a major league clubhouse. He’s learned English phrases and taught his teammates a little Japanese. Terrific.
Now he needs to pitch.