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Sports

May 6, 2013

Different but dominant: Tazawa, Uehara are unsung heroes

BOSTON — Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa doesn’t show a ton of emotion after pitching well. He’s pretty reserved.

When fellow Japanese reliever Koji Uehara, on the other hand, pitches a clean inning, he sprints into the Boston dugout and passionately slaps every teammate and coach’s hand as hard as possible in a burst of excitement unlike the reaction of any setup man in baseball.

“I can’t tell you exactly when I started it (the celebration), but I’ve been doing it for a while,” Uehara said through his translator. “It’s just something from within. I just love baseball.”

Boston’s two Japanese relievers have their differences, including the way they celebrate. But one big similarity between them: They both have a knack for throwing a lot of clean innings.

The two have been the unsung heroes thus far of the much-better-than-expected 2013 Boston Red Sox.

Tazawa has nine holds, a 2.51 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 16 appearances and 14.1 innings. Uehara has eight holds, a 2.63 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 17 strikeouts in 15 appearances and 13.2 innings.

“Tazawa powa,” read one sign held by a couple of Red Sox fans during a recent Boston/Oakland game at Fenway Park. The sign included Tazawa’s face and a photo of the Tasmanian Devil from the cartoon “Looney Tunes.”

Both Japanese hurlers not only have excited fans but also their teammates.

Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, who played with Uehara in Texas in 2011 and ‘12, told catcher David Ross and some other his teammates about Uehara’s celebrations on the flight back from spring training.

“Nap was like ‘You’ll love this guy and wait until he gets three out,’” Ross said.

DIFFERENT STYLES

Tazawa retires hitters by establishing his fastball, which as of yesterday he had thrown 68.9 percent of the time this season and at an average speed of 93.8 mph, according to fangraphs.com.

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