- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2009

From combined dispatches

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. | It hasn’t taken long for Baltimore Orioles pitcher Koji Uehara to grow comfortable in his new surroundings.

Since he represents Baltimore’s first foray into the Asian market and is penciled in as the team’s No. 2 starter, Uehara is one of the most important pitchers in camp this spring.

He’s also working to overcome the language barrier and cultural differences that come with it, although he seems to be adjusting fine.

“I feel the environment seems easier than I thought. It’s nice,” Uehara said through an interpreter. “Obviously, I have to perform on the mound, and that’s the most important thing. But after I do what I do on the mound, the social aspect comes in.”

The Orioles signed the 33-year-old to a two-year contract last month. He’s projected to start behind ace Jeremy Guthrie despite having no experience in the majors.

About a dozen Japanese reporters were camped outside the Orioles’ clubhouse Sunday morning, an hour before it opened to the media. They’re tracking Uehara’s every move, including the time he spent stretching before the first workout for pitchers and catchers.

“I’m ready to pitch the first day,” Uehara said. “And then, what I have to accomplish is pitching with the batters in the box to get the feel of it. That’s the most important thing right now.”

Uehara spent the past 10 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants, Japan’s equivalent of the New York Yankees, and went 112-62 with a 3.01 ERA, 1,376 strikeouts and 206 walks in 276 games. He was named rookie of the year in 1999 and won two Swamura Awards as the league’s best pitcher.

“His presence was big in Japan,” said Hidecki Okuda of Sports Nippon. “It’s too early to say whether he’ll adjust well here or not. He’s not a shy person, but being a starting pitcher at this level is so complicated, on the field and off the field.”

Catcher Gregg Zaun will try to bond with Uehara, hoping to find ways to connect that work for everybody.

“I’m going to try to learn a little Japanese, and hopefully with the help of his interpreter we can communicate,” Zaun said. “It’s something that’s always interested me, and there’s no time like the present. I’ve got to start learning a little bit about the language, the culture, and hopefully I can understand him and get to know him.

“But a lot of things that are communicated on a baseball field aren’t said - it’s a universal language.”

Pitcher passes on invite

PEORIA, Ariz. | Seattle’s Ryan Rowland-Smith decided to stay in spring training rather than play for his native Australia in the World Baseball Classic.

The Mariners pitcher said Australia’s manager, Jon Deeble, was disappointed but understood that Rowland-Smith didn’t want to risk a major league job by missing at least 10 days of camp. He told Deeble he definitely wants to play in the 2013 version of the event.

Also, Erik Bedard declared himself fine after he threw for 12 minutes in the bullpen, his first work off a mound in front of the Mariners since having season-ending surgery on his throwing shoulder in September.

Bedard didn’t start after July 4 last season, a disappointing one after the Mariners traded five top prospects to Baltimore for what they thought would be their ace in 2008.

New general manager Jack Zduriencik, assistant GM Lee Pelekoudas, first-time manager Don Wakamatsu, trainer Rick Griffin and new pitching coach Rick Adair all watched from a few feet away as the left-hander threw smoothly.

Bedard threw about 35 pitches but said he wasn’t thinking about trying to make a strong first impression.

Pierre in limbo

PHOENIX | Juan Pierre still wants to know whether he has a role with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he remains in limbo until Manny Ramirez signs with a team.

Pierre arrived at spring training Sunday, showing up three days early and feeling the same as he did at the end of last season - frustrated.

“I kind of feel like I’m in the way around here,” he said. “Last year I wasn’t helping the team or me. It was torture for me. All I want is a chance to compete.”

Twins’ Mauer limited

FORT MYERS, Fla. | Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer will be limited as spring training camp opens Monday with the team’s first official workout for pitchers and catchers.

Mauer, who won his second batting title last season, had surgery Dec. 22 to remove a blockage from one of his kidneys.

“I still have all of my parts intact,” Mauer said. “It was something I’ve had since birth.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Mauer said as his teammates filtered into the Hammond Stadium clubhouse. “But I’ll find out in a little bit.”

Mauer said he hoped to be ready by Opening Day.

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