Orioles Turn to Japan, Koji Uehara for Pitching

Baltimore entered the offseason with exactly one rotation spot filled, so to say it needs pitching help would be an understatement of epic proportions. The Orioles signed journeyman Mark Hendrickson last week. Now they've erased another of the question marks after Jeremy Guthrie by agreeing to two-year deal with Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara, according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun.

Uehara, who will be 34 on Opening Day and who has an outstanding international resume, will be the first Japanese player in franchise history -- a strange thought considering the impact talent from the Far East that currently resides in the AL East.

The signing certainly could pay future dividends, as Peter Schmuck writes, but the question in the short-term is just how he'll fit in at Camden Yards and how he'll cope with pitching in the toughest division in baseball.

His agent thinks he'll be outstanding:

"I have a lot of confidence in this guy. He'll take the ball every fifth day and can be a No. 2 or 3 in a very difficult division," [Mark] Pieper said. "This will be a challenge for him but he is clearly up for it."

Of course, agents are paid to think and talk like that about their clients.

There should be a healthy dose of skepticism in the Charm City about his ability to actually be a No. 2 or No. 3-type starter, especially with the high-octane lineups he'll be facing so often in New York and Boston. Uehara is much older than, say, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and is coming off an up-and-down 2008, which saw him demoted to the minors in Japan in April.

But he also has clear strengths. He's easily the most highly regarded Japanese player heading stateside this winter (though he doesn't have nearly the upside of Junichi Tazawa) and he's a control artist, allowing 206 career walks in 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants and never more than 28 in a season.

The Orioles can't expect Uehara to be Matsuzaka, and they have to pray he won't be Kei Igawa. In the end, they'd have to be pretty happy if he turned into Hiroki Kuroda, who arrived in the majors last year at a similar age (33) and helped take the Dodgers all the way to the NLCS.

Orioles Turn to Japan, Koji Uehara for Pitching originally appeared on MLB FanHouse on Wed, 07 Jan 2009 02:15:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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