September marks Chen oddity

By Greg Echlin
September 1, 2010

Bruce Chen had a good laugh when asked if he thought early in the year that by Sept. 1 he would have more wins than Zack Greinke.� As it turns out, Greinke and Gil Meche combined.

When it comes to each of the other two pitchers, the levity is brief.� Meche has been activated from the disabled list as a relief pitcher after his sore right shoulder forced to him give up permanently his turn as a Royals starter.� Greinke, after a sensational Cy Young Award season last year, has been through an up-and-down season dotted with some outstanding performances but left with as many no-decisions (8) as victories.

But Chen, a self-proclaimed funny guy which anyone who has been around him wouldn�t argue, can laugh about himself and his nine victories this season.� When his season ended Sept. 17 last year because of an oblique muscle injury, he had no idea what was in store for his overall major league future let alone pitching for the Royals.� His numbers weren�t anything to write home about: a 1-6 won-loss record with an ERA of 5.78.

Nevertheless Chen secured a minor league contract for 2010 and a better fate than a couple of other left-handed arms from last year like John Bale and Lenny DiNardo who were sent packing.

�I�m glad that they gave me an opportunity.� They believe in me,� said Chen, 33, who pitched for nine other major league teams before the Royals brought him up from Omaha last year. �

Chen discovered early in spring training this year he�d join the other left-handers on the streets if he didn�t change something.� It was apparent from his first two bullpen sessions in Surprise, Arizona.

�In my first two bullpens, I was leaving pitches up.� Mac (Royals pitching coach Bob McClure) was saying, �Bruce, if you want to be on this team you have to keep the ball down,� Chen recalled.

It was then when Chen decided he had to drop down on his arm angle, something he had never done before.� But if he were to do it, Chen knew he�d have to drop down for all his pitches�cut fastball, changeup, curve�which wasn�t an easy adjustment.� Instead of pitching in the �A� games in spring training, Chen pitched in the �B� games to give himself a chance to work on his new delivery.

�We didn�t know how it was going to turn out, but I knew that the guy that was going to throw up here (in the big leagues) was not the guy I wanted to be.� I wanted to be a guy who can help this team,� said Chen.

Chen started the year out in Omaha, then was promoted April 23.� He made ten relief appearances before his first start.� That�s when Royals really needed him after Hochevar and Meche were sidelined.

�I�m glad that they trusted me because they could have picked a lot of guys, a lot of guys who were doing well,� said Chen.� �They (the Royals) had some guys who were pitching in Triple A and I was in the bullpen. I didn�t start for a long time.� I remember Ned (manager Yost) coming to me and saying, �Bruce, I�ve seen you.� You have real good pitches.� I saw you pitch in Triple A and I want you to start on Sunday (May 30 at Boston).� I want you to prove to me and to this organization that you can be a starter here.���� �

Chen went only four innings in that start, but with only one run given up it was convincing enough for Yost to bring him back five days later.� At home against Detroit, Chen picked up his first win as a Royals starter by allowing only two runs over five innings.� His finest effort took place in Anaheim, a perfect game for six innings, July 3 against the Angels, before Erick Aybar opened the seventh with a single.

A funny guy, Chen has earned the right to have the last laugh.