PITTSBURGH -- The last place Koji Uehara wants to wind up this winter is on the discount rack at Uniqlo.
The Red Sox closer took a necessary step toward avoiding that fate in Boston’s 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh Tuesday night with an impressive eighth inning against the Pirates, striking out three consecutive Buccos after a leadoff double by Neil Walker.
Uehara, pitching for only the second time since he voluntarily relinquished the closer’s role on Sept. 4, struck out Russell Martin, Starling Marte and Gaby Sanchez in succession after Walker laced a double into the right-field corner to open the inning.
Manager John Farrell made no pledges when Uehara would return to the role in which he has thrived for the better part of two seasons with the Red Sox until hitting a wall in August. But he has said Uehara, who is eligible for free agency after the season, will definitely close between now and the end of the season.
Uehara could use a strong finish to boost his value on the open market after his late-season struggles may have planted doubts in the minds of potential suitors, who already are mindful that he turns 40 next April.
Outta here Anthony: Martin, with a man aboard, and Marte both took Sox rookie starter Anthony Ranaudo deep. Ranaudo allowed just four hits and three runs in his 5 2/3 innings of work, walking three and striking out three. But Pittsburgh scored all of its runs off Ranaudo on the long ball, which has been a staple of his six starts since his call-up. He has yielded 10 in 32 1/3 innings, after allowing just nine in 138 innings in Triple-A Pawtucket.
Blankety-blanks: The Sox were shut out for the 15th time this season, a total exceeded in the AL only by the Rays and Mariners. The Sox were held to two runs or fewer for the 54th time this season; they’re 7-47 in those games. The Sox were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Hits given, taken away: Catcher Christian Vazquez broke an 0-for-20 slump with a double. Jackie Bradley Jr. had two potential hits taken away by outstanding defensive plays by the Pirates’ infield and is now 1-for-23 since his return from Pawtucket.
Pirates hold serve: The Pirates, leading for the second wild-card spot and trying to catch the Cardinals in the NL Central, won for the fifth time in their last six games and for the ninth time in their last 11. Six Pirates pitchers combined to shut out the Sox on seven hits, with starter Carl Morton (6-12) going the first five. The shutout was preserved when lefty Tony Watson struck out Yoenis Cespedes to end the eighth after a single by Xander Bogaerts and double by Allen Craig. Former Sox reliever Mark Melancon finished off the Sox in the ninth.