Saito emerging as key bullpen piece

Saito emerging as key bullpen piece

Saito emerging as key bullpen piece
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers' Takashi Saito is relieved to be focusing on pitching and not the myriad of little injuries that marred his first half.

Saito worked a perfect ninth inning Tuesday for his fourth win in 16 relief appearances since returning from the disabled list. Saito spent most of the first three months of the season sidelined by hamstring, rib cage and shoulder issues. He beat the Dodgers, the team that imported Saito from Japan in 2006.

"Whenever I'm pitching, I don't think about injuries, even though all of my injuries have happened while pitching," Saito said through his interpreter, Kosuke Inaji.

"Right now, I feel great," Saito said.

He's proven it over the past week. Partly because Saito is the bullpen's veteran at 41 years old, and partly because his season has been dogged by injuries, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke resisted using him on back-to-back days until Sunday, when Saito worked around a pair of 10th-inning walks to preserve 1-1 tie with the Pirates that turned into a 2-1 Brewers win.

After getting Monday off, Saito was again effective against the Dodgers on Tuesday, when the Brewers really needed him. Closer John Axford was off-limits after pitching three days in a row, and setup man Francisco Rodriguez was out with continued stiffness in his legs.

"I've been telling them for a while that I'm ready whenever he needs me," Saito said. "It's seemed that they were being a little cautious."

Now he's a key part of a Brewers bullpen on a roll. Milwaukee's relievers entered Wednesday with a 1.60 ERA over the team's last 28 games, lowering the group's ERA from 4.12 to 3.63. Saito's inning extended the bullpen's scoreless streak to 18 2/3 innings.

He laughed when presented with the idea that his return to health figured in the relief corps' recent surge.

"I don't know whether I was a big contributing factor, but I know having Rodriguez there was a big help," Saito said. "I've been lucky that all of the bullpens I've been a part of have been amazing bullpens, and this one is right up there. This one is special."