ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: Pitcher Koji Uehara #19 of the Texas Rangers receives high fives in the dugout after striking out Torii Hunter (not pictured) of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 26, 2011 in Anaheim, California. The Rangers defeated the Angels 4-3. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Remember back to last season if you will, Koji Uehara was brought in from Baltimore at the trade deadline with a microscopic 1.72 ERA, 68 strikeouts and eight walks.
In his 22 outings in a Rangers uniform last season, Uehara was knocked around for a 4.00 ERA, but that was nothing compared to his postseason struggles when he put up a 33.75 ERA, 5.25 WHIP and had more walks than strikeouts before being left off the World Series roster and put on the trade market over the winter. In fact, the Rangers worked a deal to trade him to Toronto, but Uehara blocked it.
Right now, the Rangers are pretty glad he did.
The 37-year-old Japanese righty with a deceptive split-finger that pops off his arm at deceptive speed has posted a 2.15 ERA and earned a big save on Sunday — his first of the season — on a day when the Rangers wanted to give ailing Joe Nathan one more day off before his scheduled day off today.
"He's a very good pitcher," Rangers manager Ron Washington told reporters after the game. "He's fresh and he's got his stuff working right now. He came in today and proved that."
That was clear on Sunday, when he got the one batter he faced, lefty Michael Saunders, as Uehara showed the emotion that endeared him to Rangers fans when he arrived last season, a rarity for the game's usually stoic Japanese pitchers.
"I'm always excited," Uehara said through a translator after the game. "I've been away from the game for 2 1/2 months [on the disabled list] this season and the guys around me have been working their tails off this season. Now I get a chance to get their back, in a sense."
That big out on Sunday, with a runner on third in a one-run game, just furthered the amount of confidence Washington and the Rangers have in him.