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Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara eyes Labor Day return to bullpen

BOSTON -- Given how the Boston Red Sox bullpen has labored for the past month, getting injured setup man Koji Uehara back by Labor Day would be a welcome development.

It just might happen, too.

Uehara threw an encouraging 25-pitch session of live batting practice Monday at Fenway Park, his most rigorous workout yet since he went on the disabled list July 19 with a strained right pectoral muscle.

According to Red Sox manager John Farrell, Uehara is scheduled for a bullpen session Wednesday in Boston and will throw to hitters again Saturday, one day later than he otherwise would have because the field at Oakland Coliseum won't be available after a Raiders preseason game Thursday night.

If all goes well, Uehara could be reinstated to the roster as soon as next Monday for the opener of a three-game interleague series in San Diego.

The Red Sox can use Uehara, too. Since he was sidelined, they have lacked a primary eighth-inning setup man. Although submarining right-hander Brad Ziegler hasn't pitched poorly, Farrell prefers not to use him against left-handed hitters. Junichi Tazawa and Matt Barnes have struggled, and lefty Fernando Abad has been a disappointment since being acquired from the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline.

So, although Uehara is 41 years old and has allowed eight home runs in his past 20⅔ innings, he figures to help stabilize a group of relievers that has been searching for more definition to their roles.

"A healthy Koji certainly adds to our bullpen. And I know that he senses that," Farrell said. "But I can't say that he's short-cutting any work or rehab for the sake of just getting back."

Regardless of the struggles of the Red Sox's bullpen, Uehara made clear Monday night that he doesn't intend to come back before he's ready.

"It makes no sense to rush at this point in time, so I'll try to be ready when I'm ready," Uehara said through a translator. "I think the biggest hurdle is getting over the hurdle mentally. I think I'm pretty good where I am physically."

Indeed, when Uehara got injured, the Red Sox weren't sure he would pitch again this season. Pectoral injuries are less common in pitchers than shoulder issues. Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski recently noted that Detroit Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez missed the final month and a half of last season with a pectoral strain.

"It's been impressive to see how [Uehara] has handled the volume with three times on the mound and the intensity to his bullpens and the BP," Farrell said. "To his credit, he's worked his tail off. He's gone about this fairly rapidly."

Uehara has appeared in 39 games this season and has a 4.50 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 36 innings.