KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals left-hander Bruce Chen got some sound advice back in spring training a few moments after manager Ned Yost told him he had been demoted to the bullpen.
“I had a couple of people tell me that good things will happen,” Chen says, “and that teams that start with five starters never finish with the same five starters. I never really thought about it that way, but I kept that in the back of my mind.
“I told myself to just stick with it and just do what I can and wait for that chance.”
Sure enough, a few weeks ago, Chen got called back into Yost’s office and was told he’d be going back into the rotation.
The only downside for Chen was that his delight came at the expense of one of his closest friends, Luis Mendoza, whose spot in the rotation Chen was taking.
“I felt bad for him, really bad,” Chen says. “That’s the hard part about baseball.”
But while Chen consoled Mendoza, he also knew he had to get busy adjusting back to being a starter.
One could say it was a short adjustment period. In three starts since returning to the rotation, Chen has been brilliant each time, allowing just seven hits, three walks and three runs in 18 innings.
Chen has been exactly what the Royals needed to stabilize the bottom of the rotation.
“I felt really good those games,” he says. “But I can’t take all the credit. Our defense played great, and my catchers called a great game.
“We’re all in this together. Total team effort. I don’t strike out a lot of guys, so it takes everyone on defense and they’ve made great plays behind me in the outfield.”
For the season, Chen is now 4-0 with a 2.09 ERA. Memories of that demotion back in spring training seem awfully distant now.
“Actually, I felt bad back then because I couldn’t help the team the way I wanted to, as a starter,” Chen says. “But I knew I couldn’t argue about it. He already made the decision. Nothing I can do. You can sit there and pout or you can try to help the team.
“And the last thing I was going to do was just give up. I knew we had a good team. And I knew it was my job to step it up and contribute.”
Chen decided he would use the bullpen experience to help the team in a unique way — through diplomacy.
“I wasn’t going to dwell on the negative,” he says. “So I just looked at it as a way to help the bullpen guys get more in touch with the rest of the team. You know the bullpen guys, they are always sitting out there in the bullpen away from the dugout and they sort of get detached from the team.
“So when I was out there I tried to make sure they all felt like a part of the team before the game and after the game. I hoped they all felt a little closer to the team. I hoped I helped make for more camaraderie.”
Obviously, Chen, 36, has done his part on the mound, too, which is just in time for him — he is a free agent after this season.
“I’ve been through this many times before,” he says. “You do the best you can and then you wait to see what happens. If they like you and think you did a good job, they sign you. If not, they don’t sign you and you go somewhere else. You don’t worry about it.
“I’ve been around. I know by now not to worry about all that stuff. If you’re good enough, you get a good deal somewhere. It’s really simple.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at email@example.com.