Koji Uehara AP

Koji Uehara admits feeling fatigued as of late

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BOSTON — The book on Koji Uehara is out.

With the equivalent of a full season as Red Sox closer under his belt, hitters know he plans to retire them with fastballs and splitters. And they know he’s going to throw strikes.

Lots of strikes.

It came as no surprise then that the Cubs — a team that hasn’t seen Uehara in a Red Sox uniform before Tuesday — were aggressive in their approach in the top of the ninth inning at Fenway Park.

In a game tied at one, Anthony Rizzo jumped on the first pitch he saw — a splitter — and singled. Cleanup man Starline Castro saw five pitches before doubling on a fastball that caught a chunk of the plate. Luis Valbuena knocked in the game-winning run seven pitches later on a splitter he lifted to right field for a sacrifice fly.

After the loss, Uehara told reporters that he’s feeling “a little bit of fatigue.” He didn’t hint any any soreness, however, and didn’t blame his night on overuse.

“I probably need to get younger,” he explained through team interpreter C.J. Matsumoto.

Kidding aside, Uehara did admit that the command of his splitter isn’t where he would like it. Lately, that has translated into a handful of runs allowed.

Since a 2-1 win in Minnesota on June 18, Uehara has thrown seven innings, allowing four runs and seven hits.

Red Sox manager John Farrell said that when Uehara has run into trouble it has been against teams that were aggressive, as the Cubs were Tuesday.

“A number of early swings,” Farrell said. “When he’s giving up some base hits, it’s been on first or second pitch where he’s trying to get a strike. It’s not the true put-away split.

“That was the case with Rizzo tonight. I thought Castro laid off some pretty good splits to get deep in that count and then gets one up in the strike zone for the double. It’s been more in the early counts where we’ve seen some of the damage take place.”

It’s been unusual for Uehara to run into any trouble so his posting a 5.14 ERA in eight outings has been a strange sight. But his teammates aren’t concerned. 

Clay Buchholz — Tuesday’s starter for the Sox, who gave up one run in 6.1 innings — said that everyone on the team still takes a deep breath every time they see Uehara make his way in from the bullpen.

“Can’t go out and not give up a run every time out,” Buchholz said. “It’s impossible. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the best closer-slash-reliever in the game . . . Things happen. This game’s hard. Regardless of if you throw 120 mph somebody’s gonna get a hit off it and score a run.”

Catcher AJ Pierzynski had his closer’s back as well.

“Everyone knows Koji throws fastball and split pretty much, so he makes a good pitch he gets guys out,” he said. “It’s not like he’s been getting crushed all over the yard. He got a bunch of saves on the road trip. Threw the ball fine, like I said. Rizzo hit a good pitch. Castro hit a pretty good pitch, and then Valbuena had a good at-bat and hit one just far enough. I mean, I don’t know what you guys want.” 

Rightly or wrongly, these are the standards Uehara has set for himself. The good news for the Red Sox is that he doesn’t seem too far out of whack. He’s just a couple of weeks removed from polishing off a streak of 21 consecutive scoreless innings.

And his plan for getting back into a groove, like his approach on the mound, was remarkably simple as he explained it.

“Just get some sleep . . . eat well,” he said. “I think it comes down to the basic stuff.” 

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.