Looking to earn roster spot, Wang impresses
PHOENIX -- Rule 5 Draft pick Wei-Chung Wang is a 21-year-old left-hander who spent last year in rookie ball with the Pirates and is trying to jump all the way to the big leagues with the Brewers. Two weeks ago, he compared his bid to swimming across the ocean from Taiwan.
Was Wang any more optimistic after a successful exhibition debut on Monday?
"I see islands," Wang said through a translator, "but there's still a lot of sharks."
He kept the sharks and the Chicago Cubs at bay during a quick sixth inning at Maryvale Baseball Park. Wang threw eight of his 11 pitches for strikes during a 1-2-3 frame that included two strikeouts. He caught Cubs designated hitter Aaron Cunningham looking at a 93-mph fastball, and catcher John Baker swinging through a 76-mph curveball.
It was precisely what Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was looking for. Teams must keep a Rule 5 pick on the active roster all season or offer him back to his old team.
"If he can throw strikes, he's going to get people out," Roenicke said. "The hard thing with keeping Rule 5 guys is if he's so wild when you put him in there, it's hit batsmen, walks and whatever. We've seen it against us the last couple of years.
"Those are tough guys to keep the whole year. If we're going to keep this guy, we need him to be a guy we know we can bring in and he'll throw some strikes and get people out."
Wang, a starting pitcher throughout his career, is still adjusting to warming up as a reliever. Monday offered the first opportunity to do so in a game atmosphere.
When he was ready, Wang kept it simple.
"When I went on the mound, I didn't think too much," Wang said. "Kyle [Lohse] told me, 'Just throw strikes.'"
The Brewers already have one left-hander in the bullpen (Will Smith) and will have another (Tom Gorzelanny) if he can continue his progress from offseason shoulder surgery. Non-roster invitee Zach Duke, a veteran who had great relief success with the Reds late last season, is making a strong bid for a job. But Roenicke said Wang still has a shot.
"I think his performance is going to make it a lot easier for us [to make a decision]," Roenicke said. "He has a nice fastball, a good changeup. The breaking ball is a little inconsistent, but he's working on that. I think if he can go out there and be able to give us innings ... he may be alright."