Grateful Chen all business in Royals camp
Lefty making most of his opportunity, earns respect from Yost
MESA, Ariz. -- Bruce Chen is well aware that there are no guarantees in baseball.
That's why the veteran left-hander approaches every Spring Training outing with the seriousness of a regular-season start, even though it's obviously a different and more relaxed atmosphere.
"I'm competitive," said Chen. "Nothing has been given to me. I don't have a spot in the rotation or anything, so I go in there trying to get people out and doing the best I can. I try to keep the ball down and work on my pitches. But this is a game, and these guys are Major League hitters who want to hit you, and hit you hard."
Chen, 33, has always taken that approach, and so far this spring it's continued to serve him well. He picked up the victory against the Cubs on Wednesday at HoHoKam Park -- he allowed two runs on three hits over four innings in the Royals' 13-4 win -- and currently carries a 3.38 ERA over eight innings in Cactus League play.
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He's certainly impressed Royals manager Ned Yost, who has plenty of respect for Chen, especially after he was a pleasant surprise with the club last season, when he led the team in victories with 12 and posted a 4.17 ERA in 140 1/3 innings.
"He's paid his dues, he's worked hard, he's made adjustments and he's got himself where he is today by really plying his trade," Yost said. "Bruce understands who he is and what he is and how to get the best out of everything that he's got. Sometimes that takes some time, and some players never get that. And that's the goal -- to understand who you are and what you are, and take that knowledge and make the best of yourself that you can."
Chen has used that knowledge to resurrect a career that looked finished back in 2007, when he underwent Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss most of the '07 season and all of 2008.
It's admittedly been a battle for Chen, who signed Minor League deals with the Royals in each of the last two years before re-emerging last season.
He explored other options this offseason but decided to stick with the Royals, considering they gave him his chance despite a combined 6.96 ERA over the '06 and '07 seasons before he underwent ligament replacement surgery.
"I'm very grateful to this organization," said Chen, who signed a one-year deal worth $2 million in January. "It's hard because an organization can decide to go with young guys or someone else. But they gave me the opportunity and I appreciated it, so that's why I signed with them again. I wasn't going to get a two-year deal, so I might as well pitch for a team I like and one that gave me an opportunity."
Chen has relished his opportunity with the Royals and has also learned to pitch with what he has, considering his fastball averaged just 86.2 mph last season. But Chen is able to use his smarts to get big league hitters out, and that's all that matters to Yost.
"Bruce knows he's not going to throw 100 miles an hour," Yost said. "Bruce knows that he's got to pitch, he's got to command the ball, he's got to change speeds, change arm angles. He's figured all that out. Then he knows that he's got to know the opposition, he's got to know exactly their strengths and weaknesses. He studies the game or the opposition as much as anybody does. He doesn't go out there on a whim and start firing pitches. Bruce has got an idea and a reason for every pitch he throws -- and that's maturity."
That maturity is also apparent off the field, as Chen has been involved in many community outreach activities. On May 6-7, he'll chair the Royals Equipment Drive at Kauffman Stadium, collecting balls, bats, gloves and other gear for children's baseball and softball teams in the Kansas City area. Last year he participated in a baseball camp for the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
"I've been very blessed in this game," Chen said. "We get paid a ridiculous amount of money to play baseball, and I enjoy doing that as my job. I feel fortunate and privileged, and so I feel like I try to give back as much as I can now -- because once your career is over, you can't have as big of an impact. So it's very important to me."
While giving back to the community has always been important to Chen, he's also happy being an effective pitcher after 12 big league seasons with 10 different clubs.
"I feel real good," Chen said with a smile. "I'm happy with the way things are going for me this Spring Training."