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More at ease, Chen ready to improve on rookie year

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More at ease, Chen ready to improve on rookie year play video for More at ease, Chen ready to improve on rookie year

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Wei-Yin Chen has two main goals for 2013: to pitch at least 200 regular-season innings, and to ensure that he doesn't fall victim to a second-year slump.

The Orioles lefty is coming off a successful rookie season -- he went 12-11 with a 4.02 ERA -- but after a brilliant start, Chen lost momentum down the stretch, posting his two highest monthly ERAs in 11 starts from August to October. In adjusting to his first year in the Major Leagues, the 27-year-old Chen  -- who is a Taiwan native signed out of Japan -- also had to learn how to pitch on four days' rest instead of five. And despite the Orioles trying to give him extra rest whenever possible, Chen still struggled to stay fresh.

"I threw 192 [2/3] innings, so I felt not tired, but a little weak later in the season," Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. "This year, I'm not a rookie anymore, and [the opposition] knows me and they are going to adjust. So, I have to learn how to adjust in-game."

Chen also knew he had to get stronger.

Two weeks into Spring Training last year, Chen already had made the decision to live in California in the offseason and work with Brady Anderson, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations who oversees the team's strength and conditioning program. Chen isn't sure how much he's lost on the scale, but his body fat is down, his muscle is up, and he feels noticeably stronger in the first few spring bullpen sessions.

"He is very intent on being an every-fifth-day pitcher," manager Buck Showalter said of Chen, whose ERA last season was 4.39 on four days' rest, 4.09 on five, and 2.28 on six or more. "He wants to be there."

Chen has picked up more English this spring and is able to converse with teammates a little easier. He has always fit in well with the laid-back, fun-loving nature of the Orioles' clubhouse, although this year he's more aware of how he fits in.

"Players, regardless of where they are from, just want to know the expectations, what they are supposed to do," Showalter said. "Today, we were doing a potpourri of team defenses, and he picked it up right away. His interpreter was barking what I was saying, and Chen put up the hand like, 'I got it.'

"He's pretty good, pretty athletic. If he can get another year under his belt, he's got a chance to do some things."

It wasn't always that easy for Chen, with Showalter recalling a scene in last year's camp when he didn't back up a base. He made a token effort the next time, and Showalter made a point to express his anger to Lin, so it wouldn't get lost in translation. There hasn't been an issue since and, as Showalter pointed out Friday, Chen is now one of the team's most mindful pitchers when it comes to backing up a base.

"I was impressed with his mentality from Day 1," catcher Matt Wieters said. "His mentality was a bulldog, he was going to go out there and try to get a win, whatever he could do to get that win. He's a guy that everybody wants to play behind.

"It doesn't matter if you speak the language or not, his work ethic speaks for itself. He's a guy who wants to get better and wants to improve, and you can see that in how hard he works."

Wieters said, health permitting, he sees no reason why Chen can't hit the 200-inning mark this season, and it should be a goal of every guy vying for a rotation spot. This spring, Chen is projected to slot in behind Jason Hammel, and even with the extra rest, he made a staff-leading 32 starts last year and was the most consistent arm in a rotation constantly in flux. Orioles fans quickly embraced Chen, with the organization holding a giveaway T-shirt night that featured his name written in Mandarin Chinese.

"This guy is very team-oriented," Showalter said. "You weren't watching if you didn't notice how much fun he had with a competitive team last year. He got what was at stake. He was a good teammate. I was as proud of him as anything. He didn't take himself too serious. I like his quota of serious."

Chen has always been an outgoing guy, but this spring, he's considerably more comfortable. Having spent the winter working out with several teammates, including Zach Britton and Miguel Gonzalez, he is able to tease guys without needing an interpreter, pointing out in Friday's interview that he's better at handstands than Gonzalez, who was playfully eavesdropping on the conversation.

"It helps me fit into this club much more," said Chen, after mimicking the pull-up motion that Gonzalez -- who is better at pull-ups than him -- uses on the bar. "I feel so much better, not just on the field, but in here. I feel like I'm part of it. Right now, they are my good friends on this club. Before, compared with Japan, we were training by ourselves.

"Right now, you can feel this is a group, we have a goal, we have the same purpose."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["spring_training" ] }
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