- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.

Koji Uehara will carry a baseball and high expectations to the mound Friday when he makes his debut with the Baltimore Orioles.

It’s only an exhibition game against the Florida Marlins, and it’s likely the right-hander won’t go more than two innings. Yet the hype surrounding the Orioles’ first Japanese import is already churning.

“It’s a big day for major league baseball and for baseball fans throughout the world,” Baltimore manager Dave Trembley said Thursday. “Tomorrow is the first step in hopefully many more opportunities for something like this to happen. I know Koji is looking forward to it, we’re all looking forward to it. It’s going to be just a real fun thing to watch.”

The 33-year-old Uehara spent the past 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, Japan’s most prestigious team. He went 112-62 with a 3.01 ERA, 1,376 strikeouts and only 206 walks in 276 career games. He was named rookie of the year in 1999 and won two Swamura Awards as the league’s best pitcher.

Uehara is projected to be the No. 2 man in the Orioles rotation behind Jeremy Guthrie. More importantly, he epitomizes the team’s effort to extend its reach beyond North America and the Dominican Republic.

“He’s representing more than just himself. He’s representing the future,” Trembley said.

Some pitchers might yawn at the prospect of throwing in an exhibition game. Trembley suspects Uehara will have a vastly different approach.

“I would think his heart rate might be beating tomorrow. He will probably feel like a kid, that kind of enthusiasm,” the manager said. “I’m sure when he goes to bed tonight he’ll be thinking about how this happened.”

Hold the Hennessey

Brad Hennessey has hit a snag in his effort to earn a spot in Baltimore’s starting rotation.

Pulled from Wednesday’s exhibition opener against the New York Mets with a sore elbow, Hennessey has been scratched from his next start. The right-hander won’t pitch again until he feels 100 percent, according to Trembley, who believes Hennessey might have been trying too hard to make an immediate impression.

“I think it has something to do with the fact he sees the opportunity here. Maybe he did too much a little too quick, a little too soon.” the manager said.

Hennessey signed with the Orioles because he figured he had a decent shot of making the team as a starter. The injury isn’t serious, but if it lingers it could harm his chances.

Then again, rushing back would be even worse.

“I’m going to take it kind of slow here and see if some medicine and everything helps knock some inflammation out of there,” Hennessey said. “Once that’s done, you can get back in there with some throwing. It’s kind of a day-by-day thing right now.”

There is no structural damage, and Trembley assured the pitcher that there’s plenty of time left for him to make the team.

“He said: ‘Don’t rush yourself back. Once you’re ready, we’ll get you back out there.’ That’s reassuring,” Hennessey said. “But being a competitor, you want to be out there as quick as you can.”

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