When the Red Sox traded for All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel in November, Koji Uehara said that was fine with him and he would happily pitch in the eighth inning.
It was a sentiment Uehara repeated in spring training.
“There’s nothing to be concerned about,” he said on Feb. 16. “I don’t feel differently about pitching in the eighth inning or ninth inning.”
Then the season started and Uehara had trouble adapting. After seven outings that were nearly perfect, Uehara allowed 17 runs on 24 hits and eight walks over the 24⅔ innings that followed. After giving up a run July 4, his earned run average was an unsightly 4.83.
Four days later, Kimbrel tore cartilage in his left knee and Uehara was named the closer. In four outings since, he has allowed one run on two hits and struck out five without a walk. He rolled through the four innings on 54 pitches.
“There is not a huge difference. But maybe I was overthinking when I was in the eighth inning,” Uehara said through translator C.J. Matsumoto . “I think the biggest difference is that getting ready emotionally is easier because I know when I’m going to be in the game.”
John Farrell, having managed Uehara for four seasons, understands what he means.
“He’s one that, when he can prepare mentally, it’s probably more important for Koji than preparing physically,” Farrell said. “It’s when we can get the best production out of him.”
Kimbrel had surgery July 11 and is expected to be out another 2-5 weeks. Farrell plans to keep Uehara as the closer until Kimbrel returns.
“His efficiency is remarkable when he’s in the ninth inning,” Farrell said. “It’s the adrenaline; it’s the mental preparation leading into it. He knows the hitters he’s going to face. There’s no wondering where you are [going to come in] as the game is unfolding. He’s building to start the ninth inning.
“Once Craig went down, we felt this was our best opportunity to get the most out of Koji.”
Of course, the question will eventually become how Uehara will react once Kimbrel returns. He waved off that question.
“We’re definitely playing well together as a bullpen. We’re trying to hold the fort until everybody comes back,” he said.
Porcello is rested
Rick Porcello, who starts Tuesday against the San Francisco Giants, was the last starter lined up to pitch after the break for a reason. The Sox wanted to give him as much rest as possible.
“He was showing signs that we had to be conscious of the number of pitches thrown, how stressful they were inside of a given outing,” Farrell said. “Felt like the days would be beneficial for him.”
Porcello, who is 11-2 with a 3.66 ERA, got a 10-day break. His statistics don’t reflect any downturn, but Porcello was less crisp with some of his pitches, Farrell said.
Porcello is on pace to throw 203 innings. His career high is 204⅔ , for the Tigers in 2014. He went 172 innings last season.
Jake Peavy, who starts Tuesday for the Giants, will be back at Fenway Park for the first time since 2014. The righthander was traded to San Francisco on July 26 that season.
Peavy was 5-10 with a 4.48 ERA in 30 starts for the Red Sox. He was a key contributor to the 2013 World Series championship team, going 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA in 10 regular-season starts. He then started three games in the postseason, including the Division Series clincher against Tampa Bay.
Peavy is 19-17 with a 3.69 ERA for the Giants and helped them to the 2015 World Series title.
Less is more
Red Sox pitchers have a 1.76 ERA in the last five games. The team ERA has dropped from 4.52 to 4.38 . . . Robbie Ross Jr. has thrown five scoreless innings in his last four appearances, giving up three hits without a walk and striking out five . . . Xander Bogaerts is in a 4-for-31 (.129) slump over the last eight games, dropping his batting average to .319. He does have eight RBIs in those games, however . . . Infielder Sean Coyle, designated for assignment July 8, was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Angels . . . The Sox split two games with the Giants in June. The Sox lead the all-time series, 9-5.