SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — For 14 consecutive seasons, the Baltimore Orioles have tried nearly everything to improve. Now, they’re going the foreign route.
Dan Duquette, the Orioles new top baseball man, believes that one way for the team to get better is to look outside the United States — for players. Two of Duquette’s first two signings were left-handed starters Wei-Yin Chen from Taiwan and Japan’s Tsuyoshi Wada.
Both Chen and Wada are veterans of Japanese baseball, but now they have to adjust to U.S. baseball — and do it in the rugged AL East.
Chen and Wada have lockers near each other — with interpreters nearby.
For Wada, 31, who signed a two-year $8.15 million contract, he had long had the desire to test his skills at the highest level
“I just saw that Major League Baseball was a completely different world,” Wada said through his interpreter. “Even though I saw that and went into Japanese baseball, I thought I’d like to play on an international stage.”
Wada isn’t the Orioles’ first Japanese player. Three years ago, the club signed Koji Uehara, who had a rocky start. In Uehara’s first season-and-a-half, the team tried him as a starter, but he was often hurt. After moving him to the bullpen, Uehara was much better — but was traded to Texas last July.
Catcher Matt Wieters enjoyed working with Uehara and looks forward to working with Wada and Chen.
“Hopefully, they’ll have the kind of command that Koji had. Koji was easy — especially for most of the time I caught him,” Wieters said.
Wada has been slowed by discomfort in his left elbow, and received a cortisone injection on Sunday. The Orioles hope he’ll be able to throw on Thursday for the first time since the shot.
Chen signed a three-year, $11.3 million contract, and manager Buck Showalter likes what he’s seen from him.
“He knows where the finish line is. He knows he’s going to be on the club,” Showalter said.
Chen, 26, pitched the last four seasons in Japan. He was 36-30 with a 2.48 ERA. Chen became fluent in Japanese, and now it’s on to a new language and new baseball customs.
“The first two years I was in Japan it was like a learning period. I had to learn a lot,” Chen said through his interpreter. “It was a lot different from Taiwan in baseball culture and now the first two years, I’m learning and trying to process everything.”
The Orioles hope that Chen can make their starting rotation. Perhaps a dozen pitchers — including Chen and Wada — are vying for five spots.
“I love competition. I love challenges. It’s really interesting for me to come be with everyone,” Chen said.
With Chen and Wada comes increased media exposure — in Japan and Taiwan. Each day, a number of reporters from both countries chronicle their comings and goings.
Wada, who was 16-5 with a 1.51 ERA last season, is very expansive, and his English is ahead of Chen’s. When he was introduced in Baltimore, he read a statement in English — thanking the Orioles — and telling fans how much he wanted to play in the U.S.
He’s learning more English, but it isn’t easy.
“The team is teaching me a lot of things — funny things to say. What really works so far is when people speak slowly to me. I’m able to understand some things and gradually get used to it,” Wada said.
Chen had little experience in the U.S. His introductory press conference last month was in Taiwan. He came to the U.S. to train — it was his first visit. He finds English difficult.
When Chen took the mound for a bullpen session this week, his translator accompanied him. When his catcher, rookie John Hester, wanted to congratulate him, the translator spoke — and then the two players bumped fists.
“My teammates are really easy-going and outgoing so it’s easy to communicate. Conversation and stuff, I still need the translator,” Chen said.
For Wada, the waiting is frustrating. Not only is he trying to adjust to this different land, but training is different.
“It’s taken some getting used to,” he said. “I haven’t thrown enough — or as much. It’s just different, but I’m getting used to it.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)