Japanese LHP Wada makes excellent 1st impression
Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada staged a near-flawless performance Thursday during his introduction as the newest member of the Baltimore Orioles starting rotation.
If he can handle major league batters with similar finesse, Wada will enjoy a smooth transition into the next stage of his outstanding career.
Wada arrived at Thursday's news conference wearing a black suit, white shirt and orange tie - an ideal representation of the team colors. When he put on the new-look Orioles cap, Wada flashed an engaging smile that got the cameras clicking at a rapid pace.
He dutifully took off his jacket and slipped into a jersey with the No. 18 and his name on the back. But the unquestioned highlight was when Wada displayed his eagerness to embrace his new culture by reading a statement in English that explained his excitement about coming to the United States.
''I would like to thank the Baltimore Orioles organization for giving me this opportunity,'' he said. ''I was dreaming to play major league baseball since I was in college.''
He capped the event by throwing off the mound at Camden Yards for the first time.
The 30-year-old Wada signed a two-year, $8.14 million contract on Wednesday. His strength is not speed but his control of the fastball, curve, changeup and slider - even if he's behind in the count.
Wada's contract was drawn up by executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who took over for Andy MacPhail last month. Upon assuming the role, Duquette's list of priorities included delving into the foreign market and shoring up a pitching staff that last season finished with a major league-worst 4.89 ERA.
''Certainly, bringing a world-class pitcher from Japan is a signal that we are active out there,'' Duquette said. ''We're also trying to address our need to add starting pitching. So we've done both of those with this deal.''
Wada was 107-61 with a 3.13 ERA and 1,329 strikeouts in 210 career games (207 starts) over nine seasons with the Fukuoka Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League. In his 52 starts in 2010 and 2011, the lefty went 33-13 with a 2.29 ERA.
He pitched in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games and helped Japan win the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
''The thing that he has is really outstanding command of all his pitches,'' Duquette said. ''You take a look at his walk-strikeout ratio, it's like 4-1. That's extremely good.''
Wada is the Orioles' second Japanese-born player. The first was Koji Uehara, who spent two-plus seasons with Baltimore before being traded to Texas in July for pitcher Tommy Hunter and infielder Chris Davis.
''By and large, the Koji Uehara signing was successful for the Orioles,'' Duquette said. ''He pitched very effectively - he's another pitcher with outstanding control - and then he was traded to Texas and we got two very good players to help our team. So, I think the Orioles' experience with that was very helpful and instructive for us to go over to Japan and sign another quality pitcher.''
Like Wada, Duquette is a newcomer to Baltimore trying to make a positive impression. Toward that end, he compared Wada to a couple of former Orioles who were both successful and extremely popular.
''A couple of pitchers he reminds me of, he's a built a lot like Tippy Martinez, the great left-handed reliever we had here, and his style of pitching is a lot like Scott McGregor,'' Duquette said. ''Those are two Orioles pitchers our fans will remember.''
If all goes as planned, Wada will also make a lasting impression. After his initial burst of English, Wada answered subsequent questions through an interpreter. But the message was clear, in any language: He was delighted to be in Baltimore.
Asked to explain the reason he signed, Wada answered, ''The Orioles were the first to team to actually make an offer, and I felt appreciation toward the organization.''