The Red Sox signed righthanded reliever Koji Uehara at this time last year with the intent of using him in the sixth or seventh inning but knowing he had the talent to close if that became necessary.
By June, after injuries devastated the bullpen, Uehara did indeed become the closer, and he thrived in that role through the World Series.
On Thursday, the Sox landed a pitcher of similar attributes in righthander Edward Mujica.
Mujica saved 37 games for the St. Louis Cardinals last season and made the All-Star team. A shoulder strain led to a late-season slump, a demotion to middle relief, and only two appearances in the postseason.
That enabled the Red Sox to sign him to a two-year contract worth $9.5 million. Mujica, 29, was in Boston Thursday for his physical, according to major league sources.
“Chief” Mujica is one of baseball’s best strike throwers. He issued four non-intentional walks over 64⅔ innings last season while striking out 46. Mujica has averaged 1.4 walks per nine innings in his career.
Mujica has actually handled lefthanders a bit better than righthanders, another indication that he could ably fill in as the closer if needed. Like Uehara, he throws a split-finger pitch that works as a changeup and complements his fastball well.
Mujica, a native of Venezuela, has eight years of experience with four teams. He has not pitched in the American League since the Indians traded him to the Padres just before the start of the 2009 season.
Mujica had a 1.73 earned run average and 0.78 WHIP over the first five months of last season. He then allowed nine earned runs on 18 hits over 7⅓ innings in September, and the Cardinals went to Trevor Rosenthal as closer. Mujica was buried in the postseason, not pitching after Game 5 of the NLCS. He was on the World Series roster but sat idle.
The Sox made it an offseason priority to find closer-type arms for the bullpen knowing that Uehara, who turns 39 in April, pitched in 73 regular-season games and 13 more in the playoffs.
Mujica figures to start the season in a setup role, competing for innings with Junichi Tazawa, Brandon Workman, Craig Breslow, and Andrew Miller.
As the Sox learned last season when Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey suffered season-ending injuries, plans can change quickly.
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Sox lefthander Jon Lester, in an appearance on WEEI, said he would be open to working out a contract extension before the start of the season. The Sox picked up Lester’s $13 million option for 2014 . . . Gary DiSarcina, who managed Triple A Pawtucket before leaving for the Los Angeles Angels coaching staff, was named the Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America.