FORT MYERS, FLA. — – Orioles left-hander Wei-Yen Chen is still acclimating to the nuances of Major League Baseball.
Case in point: On Thursday, the 26-year-old Taiwan native allowed just four hits in five innings against the Minnesota Twins in an 11-1 victory. Two of those hits — including a RBI double — came off the bat of Joe Mauer, former American League Most Valuable Player and perennial all-star catcher.
What did Chen think about facing Mauer?
"He doesn't know him," said Chen's interpreter, Tim Lin, as the media corps laughed.
Chen quickly responded, though, with: "It's a great experience for me to learn Mauer and the other players because they are really great hitters to me."
Chen also quickly responded on the mound after giving up two doubles in the first. Once Mauer drove in Ben Revere on a double that left fielder Nolan Reimold should have caught, Chen retired 13 of the following 15 batters he faced. He was removed in the fifth after throwing 72 pitches (43 for strikes) so that others could get some work. He threw 10 more pitches afterward in the bullpen.
"There's room to improve, and to work on my off-speed stuff," said Chen, who pitched the last four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons of the Japan Central League.
Statistically, it was his best outing so far— he walked none and struck out one —but he says he's glad there's still time before the games count.
"I'm really excited for the season to start, but right now I only have 70 pitches [Thursday] ," he said. "I want to get more pitches for my next start or my next two starts, so I can get ready and maybe get in the rotation when the season starts."
Chen is considered a potential option to start Opening Day, April 6, against the Twins, but he said that is not in his mind.
"Not really, because this is my first year," he said. "The only thing I want to do is the best for me and the best for the team. So right now, just do my best every day."
Wada throws in minor league game
Orioles left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada came out of his second spring start Thursday confident that the elbow problems that have hindered his bid for a rotation spot have subsided.
He threw 47 pitches in three extended innings (10 outs) in a Double-A minor-league game at Twin Lakes Park.
Asked afterward if he believed the left elbow discomfort that crept up in the second week of camp is a thing of the past, the Japanese-born Wada, who normally speaks to the media through an interpreter, didn't need any help delivering his message.
"No problem," he said to reporters in English.
With two weeks remaining until Opening Day, Wada believes he still has a chance to make the Orioles starting rotation.
"I still think there's a chance, but it's up to the manager and I'll do what the manager says," Wada said through interpreter Danny McLeith. "They're having me throw multiple innings and letting me sit down and go back out there and keeping an eye on my pitch count, so I think they're looking at me as a starter. I really don't know, though."
Wada's fastball topped off at 87 mph on Thursday, lower than the 88-90 shown regularly on the stadium scoreboard in his first outing Sunday. But Wada said his control was better this time out, as were his off-speed pitches.
"The last time I went out, some of the off-speed pitches got away from me," Wada said. "The curve got up, the change up sneaked away from where I was aiming at the end there. We saw the same thing in the first inning [Thursday], but I fixed it in the second and third inning and I feel like I had a good off-speed repertoire [Thursday] ."
Orioles still aiming to sign Kim
In spite of the international drama their pursuit of South Korean 17-year-old Kim Seong-min caused over the past several weeks, the Orioles still plan on signing the left-handed pitching prospect once he becomes available, a team source said.
More than 30 days have passed since Major League Baseball's commissioner's office ruled it would not approve the contract of Kim because of a breach in protocol —the Orioles did not conduct a proper status check on Kim through the commissioner's office.
The Orioles are waiting for clearance to follow proper protocols to sign Kim, and once the team receives permission, it will pursue another contract with the pitcher.
The signing prompted a maelstrom of outrage from the Korean Baseball Organization and the Korean Baseball Association, which labeled the move as an example of the United States fleecing South Korea of its young baseball talent. Orioles scouts are reportedly still banned by the KBA from amateur baseball events in South Korea, but it's difficult to enforce that rule.
Kim was training in Los Angeles in preparation for minor league spring training in Sarasota, but once his contract was not approved, he went home. He's been suspended from playing baseball South Korea.
The Orioles still believe Kim, who was initially signed to a reported $550,000 bonus, is a rare talent that could be in the majors by the time he turns 22. He turns 18 next month.
Becoming an American citizen
Orioles batting practice pitcher Rudy Arias left the team Thursday to travel to Miami and be sworn in as a United States citizen on Friday. Arias, 55, moved to the U.S. from Cuba when he was just a few years old and his father was playing baseball in the states. He grew up in Miami and maintained his Cuban citizenship.
But for both personal and professional reasons —traveling to Canada, for instance, requires additional time at customs —Arias decided to take the U.S. citizenship test. It's especially important to Arias because his father, who is 80, will be at Friday's ceremony
"It's great, to me, my family. My dad always wanted me to be an American citizen because my sister was born here," he said. "I love (Cuba), and all the history behind it, but I've lived here all of my life and I'm thrilled and honored."
To commemorate the milestone, Orioles equipment manager Jimmy Tyler gave Arias a U.S. flag pendant to pin on his uniform Thursday. It will be a big few weeks for Arias. On April 21, he will be inducted into the Miami High Hall of Fame.
Orioles beat Twins 11-1
In their best offensive performance of the spring, the Orioles on Thursday scored a season-high 11 runs on 14 hits, including homers by Wilson Betemit, Chris Davis and Trent Mummey. Betemit had three hits and so did center field prospect Xavier Avery, who had two doubles, a single, a RBI and two runs scored.
"It felt good, obviously, three knocks, great day. And I played good defense," said the 22-year-old Avery, who played all last season at Double-A Bowie. "It gives me a lot of confidence to the point where I feel I can play up here every day in the big leagues. It's great getting confidence from being up here."
Much of the damage came against Minnesota starter Carl Pavano, who allowed eight hits and six earned runs in four innings pitched.
Around the horn
Due to an accident and road construction on Interstate 75, manager Buck Showalter didn't make it to the ballpark for Thursday's game until a few minutes before first pitch. … Chris Tillman struck out all three batters he faced in one inning Thursday. … Tillman, Dana Eveland, Jim Johnson and Pat Neshek combined for four scoreless relief innings.