Chenâ€™s new role proving to be huge for Royals
APR 11, 2013 11:48p ET
The topic came up repeatedly because of the competition between Mendoza and left-hander Bruce Chen for the final spot in the rotation.
But Yost didn’t mention how valuable Chen could be to the bullpen, too.
And now we’re just starting to find out.
Chen has played a significant role in two of the Royals’ wins this season, starting in Philadelphia last Friday.
The Phillies already had put four runs on the board against starter Wade Davis, and seemed prepared to make the game a blowout. But after the Royals scored two in the top of the fifth inning, Chen came on and quickly restored order.
Chen struck out Jimmy Rollins and the hot-hitting Chase Utley, then fooled slugger Ryan Howard badly and induced a weak grounder to first.
The Royals eventually roared back to win, 13-4.
“But it all started when Bruce came on and just shut them down,” Yost noted. “He stopped their momentum.”
Then on Wednesday, Davis lasted just five innings after piling up 96 pitches. And with the Royals clinging to a 1-0 lead, Chen came on again to save the day.
Chen worked around an infield single in the sixth, then faced a tough situation in the seventh when the leadoff hitter, Aaron Hicks, reached on Lorenzo Cain’s two-base error. But Chen protected the 1-0 lead by getting Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau – the Twins’ 2-3-4 hitters – all to fly out harmlessly.
In the eighth, Chen gave up a one-out triple to Trevor Plouffe (a deep drive that Cain dropped as he hit the wall). But Chen preserved the shutout by striking out Chris Parmelee and Brian Dozier.
“He just did a great job for us,” Royals’ designated hitter Billy Butler said. “We don’t win without what he did.”
Instead of pouting after losing his job in the rotation, or perhaps even demanding a trade or release, Chen instead has embraced his new role with the team – and that unselfishness is one of the main reasons he is such a popular figure in the clubhouse.
“I lost my job but I won’t lose my loyalty to this team,” Chen said. “I will do whatever it takes to help us. Everyone in here has a job to do and that includes me.”
And Chen’s job may be evolving as the season progresses.
The Royals left spring training without a true left-handed specialist in the bullpen. Tim Collins, the other left-hander on the team, is often more effective against right-handers than left-handers.
And actually, so has Chen throughout most of his career. Left-handers have a career .282 average against Chen, while right-handers are at .252.
But Chen believes he can be that Loogy (left-handed one-out guy) for the team.
“I’ve done it before, back in 2002 with the Reds,” Chen said. “It’s something I could get comfortable doing. Whatever they want.”
That year, splitting time between the Reds and Expos, Chen faced 134 left-handed hitters and limited those hitters to a .252 average with just two home runs and five doubles.
Yost is convinced that Chen could be that late-inning guy to face the tough left-handed bat.
“Definitely he can do it,” Yost said. “Did you see the game in Philadelphia? He did a great job against Utley and Howard – and those are two dangerous left-handers.”
Yost, though, won’t commit to making Chen the team’s Loogy immediately.
“I definitely think we can ease him into that role,” Yost said. “What I wanted for both him and Luke (Hochevar) for now is just to get them accustomed to their new roles in the bullpen. But yes, down the road he can be that guy.”
Chen said he’s not sure he would do anything differently with his approach to get left-handers out.
“You do whatever you can,” he said, smiling. “Throw it underhand. Throw it between your legs, whatever. Throw it underneath the ground.
“Nah, you just do whatever it takes. Whether it’s a breaking ball that sweeps or fastballs in on the hands. You change speeds. Whatever tricks I normally use. I don’t really change my approach from what I’m doing normally.
“If that’s what they want me to do, I’d be totally cool with it. If it helps the team, I want to do it. This is a good team and we’ve got a chance to do something special so we all have to do our parts.”
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