Buck Showalter thought Orioles left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada would carry some adrenaline onto the mound with him for his much-anticipated Grapefruit League debut against the Braves on Sunday afternoon at Champion Stadium.
But when the Orioles manager looked at the stadium scoreboard radar gun on Wada's fourth pitch of his outing and it clocked Wada's fastball at 94 mph, he did a double take.
Wada, known in his native Japan more for his deceptive delivery and pinpoint control than any blistering fastballs, had already struck out Braves second baseman Martin Prado on three pitches.
"His velocity in the first inning, I could tell he was a little pumped up," Showalter said. "I was like 'Oh, that was a little more than I was expecting.'"
Asked later by a Japanese reporter about Wada's 94-mph fastball, Showalter said with a grin: "A lot of our electronics in America malfunction a lot."
Wada, making his American baseball debut after spending the spring nursing a sore left elbow, made a promising first impression, striking out three Braves batters in two relief innings in the Orioles' 2-2, 10-inning tie with Atlanta.
"I was just happy to finally get out there and compete with my teammates," Wada said through interpreter Danny McLeith. "It showed me that I really have the chance to do well at this level."
His fastball spent most of the day in the 88-to-90 mph range, but it was his change-up, clocking at around 80-82, that baffled Braves hitters. He used it as his out pitch on both of his first-inning strikeouts, getting Prado looking and Dan Uggla swinging.
"His arm speed is unbelievable," Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair said of Wada's change-up. "He's got great arm action and can throw it for strikes, throw it for a chase. He knew what he was doing. He has good presence. He's a smaller stature guy, but he can create some anxiety with hitters. It was fun to see."
Rather than throwing him at home in Sunday night's game against the Yankees, the Orioles opted instead to pitch Wada on the road. When the opportunity came in the sixth inning, they also chose to put him in the game to face the meat of the Atlanta lineup in Prado, McCann and Uggla
"It didn't look like he had much anxiety. It was a stroll in the park," Showalter said. "It's part of the threshold you cross when you're in a new environment. I was proud of him. There's a lot of notoriety that comes with your first outing. He was impressive. You can see why he's had success."
Wada, who signed a two-year, $8.15 million contract this offseason, threw 34 pitches, including 21 for strikes. He made only two mistakes, both in his second inning of work. He hung a pitch up to Atlanta third baseman Joey Terdoslavich, who hit a double to left-center field to lead off the seventh. Terdoslavich moved to third on a wild pitch in the dirt and scored on a groundout to short.
"There was a bit of nerves," Wada said. "I'm not too happy that I gave up a run and that my pitch count got up there a little bit, but I'm going to do the best I can to improve the quality of my throwing for next time so I can do a better job."
The Orioles are still getting Wada ready for a starting role. He will pitch again after four days rest and through either four innings or about 50 pitches, whichever comes first. That would pencil him in for Friday at home against the Red Sox.
It'll be another first, now that another is out of the way.
"He handled himself really well," Adair said. "Everytime he goes out there, it's going to be a first for him until you get to later in the season when he's been to Yankee Stadium, on a West Coast trip, when he's gone eight innings and turned around on four days rest. Everything is new for him and for us."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun