SAN FRANCISCO – Cubs manager Joe Maddon could immediately sense something felt off with Koji Uehara on Tuesday night at ATT Park and told pitching coach Chris Bosio to check on one of the team’s most valuable relievers.
By Wednesday morning on the West Coast, the Cubs made the logical move official before a game against the San Francisco Giants: Uehara to the disabled list with a strained neck and right-hander Justin Grimm back up from Triple-A Iowa.
“You knew that first pitch,” Maddon said. “I send ‘Boz’ out to make sure he’s OK after that first hitter. He said he was, and then (Pablo) Sandoval gets the knock. I knew something was wrong. And then he finally conceded.
“We just want to make sure that we calm it down. He’s so important to us moving forward, getting him right in the latter part of the season. Looking to play September and October, we want him to be well.”
The Cubs framed it as being precautious with the discomfort Uehara has been feeling for several days on the right side/lower part of his neck. Maybe this is a way to help preserve a 42-year-old right-hander who’s lasted nine seasons in the big leagues on top of the 1,500-plus innings he threw in Japan.
“We’ll find out,” Maddon said.
Uehara has big-game experience, notching the last out for the Boston Red Sox in the 2013 World Series, pitching in six other playoff series and making the 2014 American League All-Star team. It doesn’t matter if he’s facing right- or left-handed hitters – opponents have a sub-.600 OPS throughout his big-league career.
Making 200-plus starts for the Yomiuri Giants gave Uehara a sense of confidence and a feel for his craft. Working on a one-year, $6 million deal, he is 3-4 with 13 holds, two saves and a 3.55 ERA in 43 appearances.
“I love putting him in the game, man,” Maddon said. “Here’s a guy that’s unique in today’s bullpen market. He’s a neutral guy and he throws strikes and he’s normally pitch-efficient, so you don’t worry about him being OK the next day or even the day after that, because you know he’s not throwing 20-25 pitches every time he goes out there.
“He’s an aggressive strike-thrower. And then when he walks that hitter so easily – on pitches that were so far outside of the strike zone – I knew. So, hopefully, he takes a couple days off, he comes back and then he feels good the rest of the way.”