By appearing in his 55th game for Boston on Tuesday,
Koji Uehara vested his 2014 option (AP photo)
Somebody, anybody, quick — give a brother a high-five.
When Red Sox closer Koji Uehara came out of the bullpen and into his 55th game of the season Tuesday night in Toronto, it triggered a vesting option worth $4.25 million for 2014, meaning Uehara will be back in Boston for at least one more year.
His 55th outing was just as smooth as most of his appearances have been for the Sox this season: the hard-throwing righthander faced four batters and retired them all to earn his third win of the year and lower his ERA to 1.32.
There’s still potentially more money on the table for the 38-year-old native of Neyawaga, Japan — if Uehara finishes 35 games, it will boost his 2014 vesting option to $5M. Tuesday’s win over the Jays marked the 24th time that Uehara has finished a game for the Sox this season.
“I feel that all the teammates, staff members have been taking care of me,” said Uehara, who pitched for Texas in 2012, posting a 1.75 ERA in 37 games. “I think that has absolutely contributed to my good performance.”
Uehara has not only added stability at the back end of the bullpen after the loss of both closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey to injuries, but also injected a passionate, hyperkinetic energy in the dugout with his now-trademark high-five ritual following a successful appearance.
“He’s been an outstanding pitcher for us from Day 1,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “We don’t foresee that changing because of the competitor he is and how talented he is and how he prepares. He’s done one hell of a job in the roles that he has filled.”
Testify: among relievers with at least 40 innings pitched in 2013, Uehara leads the American League in ERA, WHIP (0.68), strikeout-to-walk ratio (8.33) and is tied for first in strikeouts (75) with Toronto’s Steve Delabar and Kansas City’s Greg Holland. Since taking over as Boston’s official closer in late June, he’s posted an astonishing, league-best 0.36 ERA, 0.45 WHIP and opponent average of .110.
As NESN’s Mike Cole further pinpoints, Uehara has pitched 24.2 scoreless innings since June 16, with 17 of those innings being of the three-up, three-down variety. He’s walked only two batters during that stretch, while striking out 33. Boston is 20-3 in games in which he’s pitched during that span and 42-13 overall when he toes the rubber.
The one test Uehara will still have to face is one of durability. He’s never pitched more than 66.2 innings in a season in his MLB career, and he’s already at 54.2 in mid-August, with all of September — and hopefully a playoff series appearance or two in October — still to go.