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Orioles' Uehara adjusting to pitching in relief

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — The Baltimore Orioles still believe that right-hander Koji Uehara can be a valuable member of their pitching staff.

It just won't be in the starting rotation.

Uehara will work out of the bullpen this season after making 12 starts in 2009 as a rookie. He ended his career in Japan as the closer for the Yomiuri Giants, but most of his experience has come in the rotation.

Uehara, the first Japanese player to sign with the Orioles, went 2-4 with a 4.05 ERA in 66 2-3 innings. He made two stops on the disabled list with hamstring and elbow injuries, and didn't pitch after June because of a slightly torn flexor tendon. He also struggled with his endurance and has hired a new personal trainer.

"I think it's in his best interests so we can get him through the entire season to pitch out of the bullpen, and I think it gives us more opportunities for him to be successful and for us to win. And he agrees with that," manager Dave Trembley said.

Speaking through his interpreter, Jiwon Bang, Uehara said he has no problem pitching out of the bullpen.

"Team first," he said.

Said Trembley: "Koji has been nothing other than tremendous with me. Cooperative, team guy. He wants to win and he'll do what he can to help us win."

Uehara threw a bullpen session during Friday's workout and said his arm feels good.

"I thought it was wonderful. He looked great," pitching coach Rick Kranitz said.

"It probably didn't show in the velocity as much, as far as pure velocity, but if you look at the arm speed and the hand speed, and you look at how the ball finishes in the strike zone, it had a lot of late life to it," Kranitz said. "I was real pleased."

Trembley was equally impressed with Uehara, who threw only fastballs during his morning session.

"Koji looked strong," he said. "That's probably the best way to say it. Koji looked strong."

Uehara hadn't thrown off a mound until Tuesday. He played catch on flat ground back home while trying to regain the strength in his right arm.

"My goal this year is to stay in the major leagues the whole season," he said, "so we'll see what happens."

Whatever happens this season, it will come in relief duty.

"The guy, to me, is a bullpen guy," Kranitz said. "He's uses two pitches and his command is so good. He puts guys away with his command and he puts guys away with his split. If he's throwing anything like he threw last year, he'll be a huge help to us, wherever it may be. Whether it's two or three innings here or maybe to give J.J. (Jim Johnson) a blow in the eighth or, you never know, maybe (closer Mike) Gonzalez gets to the point where he needs a day off. He can fill a number of roles for us.

"The one thing that we found out last year was that once he went around the lineup one time, teams started to kind of figure him out a little bit. When you're a two-pitch guy, they tend to maybe sit on one pitch or the other. When his command was as good as it was, it didn't matter. There were games when it just didn't matter, the way he threw the baseball. But we'd be very comfortable putting him in any part of the game because of how successful he was as a starter."