MLB: Uehara dazzling in 'joyful' debut with Orioles
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
By DAVID GINSBURG
JUPITER, Fla. — Koji Uehara pitched in dozens of important games during his outstanding career in Japan, yet few provided him with the elation he experienced Friday in his debut with the Baltimore Orioles.
Eager to prove himself in the major leagues, the right-hander threw two scoreless innings in the Orioles' 3-2 loss to the Florida Marlins. Uehara allowed a lost-in-the-sun single, walked one and struck out three.
"To be able to stand on that mound was joyful," Uehara said through an interpreter. "It was really fun."
Marlins reliever Scott Proctor was grateful to be on the mound, too.
Four months after having elbow surgery, the sturdy right-hander made his spring debut for the Marlins and pitched a scoreless inning.
"It felt good," Proctor said after striking out one and allowing one hit and one walk. The arm "seems to fatigue a little quicker right now. That's going to be the biggest thing. But my arm strength is coming around."
Uehara pitched 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, Japan's equivalent to the New York Yankees. He signed with Baltimore as a free agent during the offseason, becoming the first Japanese-born player in Orioles history.
That's a heavy title to carry around, but Uehara appears up to the task.
"The guy's real cool," manager Dave Trembley said. "He's pitched in a lot of big games. Lord knows, this thing today was elementary school for him."
Indeed, Uehara handled the Marlins as if they were children. The 33-year-old ended a perfect first inning by blowing a third strike past Dallas McPherson, then opened the second with a 10-pitch walk to Jorge Cantu. Cody Ross followed with a popup that left fielder Like Scott lost in the sun, but Uehara rebounded by striking out Gaby Sanchez, retiring Robert Andino on a fly to right and getting Alejandro De Aza on a called third strike.
Twenty-two of Uehara's 33 pitches were strikes. And he did it all with only two pitches — a fastball and forkball.
"It was pretty impressive. Fastballs to both sides of the plate, and the split-finger was there, ahead or behind on the count," catcher Gregg Zaun said. "He commanded both sides to both hitters, righty and lefty. It looks like he's pretty quick to the plate, so he's going to control the running game as well."
Uehara has been set as the No. 2 man in the Baltimore rotation behind Jeremy Guthrie. It's way too soon to determine if the Japanese import can duplicate the success of many of his predecessors, including Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Boston Red Sox, but he's certainly off to a good start.
"He's definitely a major league pitcher. Is he going to be a Dice-K? I don't know. Maybe," Ross said. "But he had good stuff and he worked the plate in and out."
Trembley pointed out that Uehara still has to get used to gripping a different kind of baseball, and the pitcher himself indicated that he's not even close to midseason form.
"I need to work more on my control of both pitches," he said.
Really? His only walk came at the end of a 10-pitch duel with Cantu, who fouled off several close pitches to stay alive in the count.
"I was aggressive on the hitter that I gave the walk to, so I'm satisfied," he said. "No problem."
Asked if he was nervous, Uehara quickly shook his head.
"The guy is ice cold. Nothing at all," Zaun said. "I think he's going to be able to hide that from all of us if he ever experiences that because his delivery is so simple and repeatable. He's so fundamentally sound. You just rarely see errant balls. Even when he misses, it's in the right lane, either up or down."
Soon after his performance, Uehara conducted an interview with a handful of American reporters before being circled by a thick contingent of the Japanese press. He handled both sessions with the same kind of poise he showed on the mound.
"Those guys are used to it. They're like rock stars over there in Japan," Zaun said. "They deal with stuff that we don't even go through. I'm sure it's not something that even fazes him."