BOSTON — As they tumble through a 3-6 homestand filled with frustrating losses, the Boston Red Sox are piling up a legitimate list of concerns. Count reliever Koji Uehara’s ineffectiveness among them.
Uehara served up a pair of home runs in an eighth-inning meltdown Wednesday night, turning a two-run lead into a one-run deficit and sending the Sox to an eventual 8-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox. It left the veteran reliever with five home runs allowed, two more than he gave up last year. All five have come in his past 12 appearances, during which Uehara owns a 5.73 ERA.
Boston’s third straight loss — each by two runs — has the club feeling the frustration.
“We were patient enough to build some innings and get some baserunners,” manager John Farrell said. “But on a night where the offense clicks, to give back the lead a couple of times, that’s a tough one.”
The team’s relative lack of offense has prompted some changes, the latest being Hanley Ramirez getting dropped to seventh in the order. The back end of the rotation has acted like a revolving door. The bench is a constant work in process. And now Uehara’s role could be called into question.
“We gotta take a look at the internal guys that are ready for more,” Farrell said when asked if Uehara could be replaced as the primary setup man. “For certain matchups. I’m not here to say that Koji’s out of the setup role, but at the same time, if we’re going to put somebody in that spot, we’ve got some work to do with an attack plan.”
For his part, Uehara remains confident in his abilities.
“I think if you look throughout my career, there were times that I struggled,” he said through interpreter C.J. Matsumoto. “I don’t think it’s anything unusual; I’m going to work out of this.”
Maybe so, but there has been an unusual drop in velocity on Uehara’s fastball, which has fallen nearly 3 mph since his otherworldly 2013 campaign. Farrell is seeing the same issue with Uehara’s once-deadly split-finger, which was the pitch that both Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie hit for their eighth-inning homers.
“At times it’s the action to the splitter, hasn’t had that late tumble,” Farrell said. “He’s had it on occasions, and tonight was a night where he comes in with ample rest. But it’s been the late action to the split that’s been the difference on a consistent basis versus years past. … Whether it’s a decrease in arm speed, where you see the velocity on his fastball tick down a little bit, the late action is typically a direct result from maybe a little decrease in arm speed.”
Before Uehara gave up the lead, the Red Sox showcased some of the potent offensive attack they had been lacking of late. They pounded out 13 hits, and Ramirez showed rare life with a tiebreaking solo homer to the opposite field in the sixth. Boston also received a quality start from Eduardo Rodriguez, his first in a span of four outings. The lefty displayed an improved fastball, which helped him amass a season-high seven strikeouts.
However, even on a night when they got what they wanted in many departments, the Red Sox again found a way to lose and can once again look to many moments — both before and after Uehara’s appearance — that could have altered the final result.
Their first gaffe came in the second inning, when David Ortiz was waved home from second on a single by Travis Shaw and thrown out by a country mile. Those who witnessed the retiree lumbering 180 feet and then sliding into a waiting tag were left scratching their heads.
Shaw’s error in the third led to Chicago’s second run, but Boston erupted for four runs in the same frame to take a 4-2 lead, and the Red Sox had a golden opportunity to add to it in the fourth, with runners on second and third and just one out. That’s when the not-so-fleet-of-foot Sandy Leon was picked off third base by the catcher, stifling the rally right then and there.
Uehara’s issues were just the beginning of the drama in the eighth, as the hosts nearly tied it up — and later almost took the lead — in the bottom half.
With two outs, Xander Bogaerts skied a moon shot to left-center that scraped the wall on its way down, mere inches from landing in the Monster seats for a tying home run. A review showed that a fan interfered with the ball, but it was ruled to be destined to hit the wall and not clear it, thus leaving Bogaerts with a double.
One batter later, with Bogaerts on second and Ortiz on first, Chris Young lined a shot into the corner in left that had home run distance but was foul by a hair. Farrell asked for a review but this one was clear, too, and Young struck out on the very next pitch to end the threat.
The baserunning blunders, defensive miscues and near-homers added salt to the wounds, but it was Uehara who opened them up all the way with his collapse, a sight that some around Fenway are not used to.
“Yeah, you know how he is,” Bogaerts said of Uehara. “You saw 2013, how he did it, and the last couple of years he’s been kind of the same for us. It’s tough, everyone has a bad day sometimes. Just like all of us.”
Indeed, many of the Red Sox are having bad days of late. And now Uehara is at the top of the list.