TORONTO -- Thanks to a succession of injuries and underperformance, the Red Sox have gone through the last few weeks of the season without a designated eighth-inning reliever.
But as the team's biggest series of the year arrived Friday, manager John Farrell made it clear that he hopes that, eventually, the eighth-inning man down the stretch will be the same pitcher who began the season in that role: Koji Uehara.
Uehara missed more than six weeks with a strained pectoral muscle and when he made an appearance Wednesday in San Diego, it was his first time in a game since July 19.
Uehara tossed a scoreless inning with two strikeouts, raising hope that the 41-year-old could reclaim the role. But first, Farrell noted, the Sox will use him a couple more times in low-leverage spots to get him re-acclimated on the mound.
“I think there's still the need for another one or two (appearances),” said Farrell. “In fairness to him, we've got to build arm strength. I wish there was another way to do it, but needs action, he needs activity. We hope to find those opportunities.
”I thought the other night was extremely encouraging. The strike-throwing is pretty remarkable when you think of (almost) two months off. I think he threw one ball, two balls (in the entire inning). That was a good first outing.
”Depending on how games go, if the option's available to us at a given moment...(But) based on the way we started the season, (Uehara) would be the guy (in the eighth inning). You don't really (have to worry) about left/right.”
Indeed, unlike others in the bullpen, Uehara can be equally effective against lefthanded and righthanded hitters.
The same can't be said for, say, Brad Ziegler, who has limited righties to a .248 average, but has allowed lefties to hit .295 against him.
”We're always going to try use Brad's strengths to our advantage,” said Farrell. “But I think the more that we can get to someone knowing that they have the eighth inning, they can prepare mentally and they're more equipped (to succeed).”
Farrell has a number of relievers in the pen, thanks to the expansion of rosters. Joe Kelly, among others, could pitch himself into a more significant role.
”Because it's September,” said Farrell, “we've got a lot of available options to us.
“Game situations are going to dictate it. Some history's going to dictate it. We've got some guys with some favorable matchups in certain areas of a lineup. We'll see where it goes.”