No idea what to expect from Uehara today

Orioles fans know what they're getting with Jeremy Guthrie. They have a sneaky suspicion of what they'll get from the Orioles 3-4-5 starters, too. So as far as the rotation is concerned, it's Koji Uehara who is the biggest mystery. It's not just fans who are uncertain, though.

I hope you caught Dan Connolly's feature in this morning's Sun. I was asking around the ballpark Monday, too, trying to get better idea of what to expect when Uehara takes the mound tonight against the Yankees. He says he's excited, but not necessarily nervous. Asked how he'll respond to the environment and the crowd, he said, "That I won't know until [tonight]."

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We stationed Peter Schmuck in the Yankees' clubhouse on Monday (we told him there was a cotton candy machine there) and had him corner Hideki Matsui, who played with Uehara on the Yomiuri Giants from 1999-2002.

"He was a top pitcher, but he was injured toward the last four years. Aside from that, if he pitches to his ability, he'll win games," Matsui said. "His best assets are his command and his pitching rhythm. He's a pitcher with a lot of ability, but he's very tough on himself."

Uehara said Matsui has helped him with his transition to American life and American baseball. And Japanese reporters say the two are quite close, which is why Japan is setting its alarm clocks to wake up early for tonight's game.

Gaku Tashiro is a sportswriter with the Sankei Sports Newspaper, which my Wiki research suggests has a circulation of more than 1 million. He's been covering Matsui the past couple of years and says today's game is a big deal for Japanese baseball fans, though not quite as big as the World Baseball Classic.

I asked Tashiro if Uehara was the most popular pitcher in Japan.

"He used to be," he told me. "But not any more." Uehara was supplanted by 22-year-old Yu Darvish, considered the staff ace of Japan's WBC team.

With four Japanese-born players on their 40-man roster, the Red Sox might be the country's favorite team, Tashiro says, followed by the Yankees. "But Baltimore is getting popular now, because of Koji," he added.

Uehara speaks through a translator, and with the Yankees and Matsui in town, there's always a Japanese reporter or photographer a couple of feet away. "If it's only me that's pitching... these guys won't be here," Uehara said with a smile.

Uehara says there will be an adjustment going from spring training to the regular season. In Japan, the spring-training equivalent is about a month long and features longer practice sessions each day, but not near the same emphasis on exhibition games.

"Obviously when the season starts, the hitters, their eyes will change," Uehara said through his interpreter. "They're into serious mode. I'm going to expect that type of competition."

So Uehara expects that type of competition. But really, does anyone know what else to expect tonight?

Photo: Elizabeth Malby

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