O’s spring training: The 25 who will make it (#16)

March 17, 2010 | Drew Forrester

How do you say, “Relief pitching is best for me” in Japanese?

That’s the story for Koji Uehara in 2010, as he will start the campaign in the bullpen after his debut season in the major leagues – as a starter – was cut short due to injury and the perplexing case of his inability to last much longer than 5 innings when he took the mound.  In fact, half of his 12 starts in ’09 resulted in less than 6 innings of work. Still, his numbers – until he was shut down for the rest of the season in late June – weren’t all that bad.  His ERA was 4.05, below the league average, and his WHIP was a respectable 1.245.

A lot of folks – including your’s truly – started the “put this guy in the bullpen” chant by mid-May last year.  With his array of pitches and outstanding control (only 12 walks in 66 innings) – coupled with the fact he runs out of gas after being out there for 75 minutes – he seems a natural for relief work.  Dave Trembley and Company heard the chants — Koji will begin the season in the bullpen and remain there, I assume, unless he’s needed for a spot/emergency start at some point.

Odds he’ll be on the roster at the start of the season:  100%

Odds he’ll be on the roster at the end of the season: 75%

Odds he’ll be an effective contributor in 2010: 90%

Odds his name will be mentioned at the trade deadline in late July:  80%

Summary:  I expect Uehara to adapt well to his bullpen assignment.  And because of that – and the fact he’s in the 2nd year of a 2-year deal – I expect the O’s to field some calls from pitching-desperate teams in July.  Don’t be shocked if the Birds say “Sayonara” to Koji at the deadline, particularly if he continues his impressive ’09 numbers and some team needs a combo starter/relief pitcher down the stretch.  Look for Uehara to be the 7th inning hurler if the O’s are ahead or tied, setting the stage for the Johnson (8th) and Gonzalez (9th) tandem.

It’s difficult to put specific numbers down for a middle-innings relief pitcher, so I won’t.  I expect him to pitch well. How’s that for a prediction?