Rule 5 is Catch-22 for Brewers, Wei-Chung Wang
After not pitching for over two weeks, Wei-Chung Wang walked to a big-league mound for the first time and tossed a scoreless inning. Just three days later, he was torched for six hits and six runs in an ugly outing.
Such is the life of a Rule 5 draft pick trying to make the jump from rookie ball to the major leagues.
The Milwaukee Brewers knew what they were getting into when they decided to keep the 21-year-old on the roster, hoping Wang could provide enough to make having him take up a bullpen spot worthwhile.
Wang made his major-league debut Monday against St. Louis, allowing just a hit in what was a relatively easy inning of work.
Thursday was a different story, as the Pirates pounded the Taiwanese left-hander and hit two home runs in a six-run eighth inning, turning a 5-2 game into an 11-2 rout. Without being able to command his changeup Thursday, Wang had to rely on just his fastball against Pittsburgh.
"That’s tough," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It’s part of the learning curve. This is a guy who was in rookie ball last year. Hopefully he can get beyond this because as long as he’s here, he’s going to have to pitch."
As bad as Thursday was, Monday was a good day for Wang. Not only did he make his debut, but he saw snow for the first time and received his first big-league paycheck. His teammates gave him a standing ovation when he was handed his first paycheck, while Kyle Lohse stood by Wang’s side when he gave his first postgame interview.
"I tried to pretend I was not nervous," Wang said through his translator, Jay Hsu. "I was nervous inside of my heart. The first time, I’m always nervous. The first appearance in spring training I was so nervous. Maybe because I was nervous already, (Monday) was fine."
With the Brewers down by four runs in the ninth inning Monday, Wang got three fly outs to work around a two-out single by Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma.
Roenicke tried to time Wang’s first outing appropriately in a low-leverage situation, which turned into him not appearing until Milwaukee’s 12th game of the season. The Brewers had a couple of opportunities to get Wang in a game against Boston and Philadelphia, but Roenicke had to get Jim Henderson back on track in those games.
Wang said he tried to watch how Tyler Thornburg and fellow left-handers Will Smith and Zach Duke prepared to pitch on a daily basis.
"In the beginning of the season I was very worried about when I was going to pitch," Wang said. "But recently a lot of veterans have told me just to wait and do what is best for myself and to prepare for the opportunity."
Family and friends back home in Taiwan — 13 hours ahead of Milwaukee — have been watching each Brewers game hoping to see him pitch.
"They are texting me, ‘When will you pitch?’" Wang said. "I say, ‘You guys can go to sleep.’ I’m afraid they stay up so late. It’s bad for their health."
The question is if the Brewers will be able to keep Wang around all season long. It will be hard to hide a pitcher in the bullpen, especially if Milwaukee is in the race. That means Wang would have to be able to contribute, something that’s hard to expect from someone as inexperienced as him.
The Brewers must keep Wang on the 25-man roster the entire season or offer him back to the Pirates, the team they selected him from in the Rule 5 draft. Because they can develop him in the minor leagues, the Pirates would almost certainly take him back unless a trade can be worked out.
But the talent is there and will likely keep him with the Brewers for the time being. While Roenicke can afford to find spots to get him into games, eventually every pitcher in the bullpen has to appear in situations where things are on the line.
"He is our long guy," Roenicke said. "A long guy, that’s the thing — when you’re playing well and pitching well, they don’t usually get in a lot of ballgames."
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