We wondered about Koji Uehara’s durability in the offseason, and, specifically, how much rest he was going to need throughout the season. Uehara wasn’t able to pitch on back-to-back days after a September return from a pectoral injury last year that cost him all of August, and, at age 42, caution is advised.
On the whole, the numbers look acceptable, if unspectacular, with the Cubs: 3.72 ERA, 1.88 FIP, 3.94 xFIP, 23.8% K rate, 7.1% BB rate through 12 appearances and 9.2 innings.
The ugly parts of those numbers, though, are dramatically inflated by just two appearances, outside of which he literally has not yet given up a run.
So far, Uehara has pitched just twice for the Cubs on zero days rest, and the results have been disastrous: each time, he recorded no outs, and the game went off the rails in his inning. Last night’s iteration involved three straight hits to load the bases in a tie game, before Uehara was lifted and Pedro Strop couldn’t quite get out of trouble.
Is that enough to say Uehara cannot be trusted to pitch on back-to-back days anymore?
I’m still not sure. Despite my in-the-moment EBS quip last night, I wouldn’t say the Cubs categorically have to rule out back-to-back appearances for Uehara the rest of the way. It is, after all, just a two appearance sample so far, and, before that injury in late 2016, Uehara was effective in limited doses of zero days rest just last year (1.08 ERA, .595 OPS against in 9 such appearances in 2016).
Maddon downplayed the back-to-back appearance thing being an issue after the game, saying that he thought Uehara’s stuff looked normal, and if he’d only gotten to the bag in time on the first grounder, everything would have been different (Cubs.com).
Maybe that’s true, but it’s worth noting that Uehara’s velocity was down 1.5mph from the night before, and his splitter – off of which all three hits occurred – had much less vertical drop than usual.
In the end, we can’t ignore the fact that the guy is 42 years old, and he was injured last last season. What once worked just fine can turn on a dime, especially for aging relievers who work without premium velocity. If Uehara pitches again on back-to-back days very soon, I’d be surprised. And tense.