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Koji Uehara is 40, but he’s aging gracefully

Koji Uehara’s role will move from closer to the eighth inning this season.Greg Fiume/Getty Images/file 2015

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The oldest player on the Red Sox roster did not participate in Tuesday’s informal workout at Fenway South. Koji Uehara had better things to do than play catch and run a few sprints.

Uehara went out on a practice field with a trainer and returned 90 minutes later drenched in sweat, having gone through a much more strenuous workout than his teammates.

As he prepares for his 18th season in professional baseball, Uehara is working hard on his condition. The righthanded reliever, who turns 41 in April, plans to keep playing for a few more years.

“When you’re on the field, age doesn’t matter. I don’t think about those things,” Uehara said with the assistance of translator C.J. Matsumoto. “If I can decide how long I will play, then I will keep on going. As long as somebody offers me a contract, I will play.


“If I do terrible and no team wants to take me, I will retire. But not until then.”

Uehara fractured his right wrist Aug. 7 when he was struck by a line drive off the bat of Detroit’s Ian Kinsler. He spent the remainder of the season on the disabled list.

“I’m fully recovered,” said Uehara, who started throwing before the season ended. “I didn’t alter anything in the offseason. There is no pain.”

Uehara already has thrown off a mound and said his spring training should be a normal one. All that will change is his role as the Red Sox traded for Craig Kimbrel to become the team’s closer.

The November deal sent four prospects to the San Diego Padres for Kimbrel, a 27-year-old four-time All-Star. Manager John Farrell called Uehara at the time to tell him his job would be shifting to the eighth inning. Uehara expressed no dismay and that hasn’t changed.


“There’s nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “I don’t feel differently about pitching in the eighth inning or ninth inning. What is most important is that the team wins. Whatever it takes.”

For opposing hitters, the Red Sox bullpen should be challenging given the contrasting styles of Uehara and Kimbrel. Uehara averaged 87 miles per hour with his fastball last season, Kimbrel 97. Uehara also features a split-finger fastball that drops sharply and leads to unbalanced swings.

For Farrell, there will be comfort knowing he can give Kimbrel a day off when needed and use Uehara to close. Carson Smith and Junichi Tazawa will be available for the seventh inning.

Uehara laughed when asked if the Red Sox will have a good bullpen.

“I need to look at the roster and see who is on the team. I don’t remember everybody,” he said. “Then I will let you know. But I think so.”

His priority is returning to the postseason. At his age, such chances could be fleeting.

“Because of the last two seasons [when the Sox finished in last place], that makes me more determined to contribute to this team and prepare for the season,” Uehara said.

If this proves to be Uehara’s final season with the Red Sox, he will leave with a considerable legacy.

Uehara was an unheralded signing when the Red Sox picked him up before the 2013 season. He has appeared in 180 games since and compiled a 1.86 earned run average along with 72 saves. In 179 innings for the Sox, Uehara has struck out 228 and unintentionally walked only 23.


Signed as a set-up man, Uehara became the closer midway through the 2013 season and was nearly untouchable. He pitched brilliantly in the postseason, allowing one earned run over 13⅔ innings and striking out 16 without a walk as the Sox won the World Series.

Uehara was an All-Star in 2014 and pitched well again last season — opponents had a .233 on-base percentage — before the injury. He has been a fan favorite and one of the more popular players in the clubhouse because of his playful nature.

“I love baseball and I’ll keep going,” Uehara said. “Why not?”

40-plus club

Uehara is the fifth-oldest active pitcher and sixth-oldest active player. The others:

• P LaTroy Hawkins: 43 years, 1 month

• P Bartolo Colon: 42 years, 9 months

• OF Ichiro Suzuki: 42 years, 3 months

• P R.A. Dickey: 41 years, 3 months

• P Joe Nathan: 41 years, 2 months

• P Koji Uehara: 40 years, 10 months

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.