The Orioles' new starting pitcher, Tsuyoshi Wada, likely won't make his Camden Yards debut until the first full week of April, and it won't be known for several months how well he'll make the transition from Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball to major league baseball.
But the first impression of the 30-year-old, soft-tossing left-hander is that he'll work to assimilate — as evidenced by his opening statement Thursday at his introductory news conference at Camden Yards, which he delivered in English.
"My name is Tsuyoshi Wada. I'm from Shimane, Japan. I played for Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. I would like to thank you, Baltimore Orioles organization, to give me this opportunity," said Wada, who agreed to a two-year, $8.15 million contract with a $5 million option for 2014. "I was dreaming to play major league baseball since I was a college [pitcher]. So this is a very special moment. I very [much] look forward to pitch at Camden Yards. Thank you."
Dan Duquette, the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations who signed Wada, turned to his new pitcher and said, "All right, Tsuyoshi, nice job there."
The real test for Wada, however, will come on the mound against formidable American League East hitters, whom he'll try to get out with a deceptive delivery, a mid-80s fastball and three other pitches he can locate for strikes.
"Some clubs would be concerned about his velocity," said Duquette, who has never seen Wada pitch live but said he received favorable reports from scouts, "but when I saw that he could throw his breaking pitches and his changeup over when he is behind in the count, to both left- and right-handed batters, I felt like he had everything to contribute as a starting pitcher for the Orioles."
Duquette then hearkened to a better day in Orioles history, saying Wada reminded him of two former standout lefties.
"He's built a lot like Tippy Martinez, the great left-handed reliever that we had here, and his style of pitching is a lot like Scott McGregor," Duquette said. "So those are two Orioles pitchers that our fans will remember, and his physical capabilities and also his stuff remind me of those two great Orioles pitchers."
Wearing his new Orioles uniform — No. 18, which signifies a staff ace in Japan — Wada becomes the second player in Orioles history to join the club directly from Nippon Professional Baseball. His signing comes nearly three years after right-hander Koji Uehara, whom the club traded to the Texas Rangers in July, became an Oriole.
Wada said he talked to Uehara on Wednesday, after he had agreed to a contract.
"I called Mr. Uehara to let him know I signed with the Baltimore Orioles," Wada said through interpreter Yoshi Hasegawa, director of Japanese baseball for Octagon sports agency. "And Mr. Uehara told [me] that if I need anything, any information on Baltimore, just let [him] know."
Wada, who turns 31 in February, might not be the celebrity Uehara once was in Japan, but he has had an impressive career there. He represented his country in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and was his league's Most Valuable Player in 2010. In 2011, he was 16-5 with a 1.53 ERA and pitched in the final game of the Japan Series — Japan's version of the World Series — which Wada's Hawks won.
Since taking the Orioles' top front office job last month, Duquette has stressed the need to add pitching and pursue talent globally.
The Wada signing addresses both issues, but his addition does not complete the Orioles' shopping list. Duquette says he's not close to being done — with more pitching and a left-handed-hitting outfielder still a possibility.
"We're still interested in adding players to help our ballclub," Duquette said, "and we've got a couple trade discussions that are still alive."
Duquette would not say where Wada will fit in to the Orioles' rotation, but with only one established starter in Jeremy Guthrie, it's possible he'll have to pitch toward the top of the rotation. For his part, Wada said he thinks his biggest adjustment will be dealing with a different culture and not the league itself or one fewer day of rest between starts — something he said he has prepared himself for mentally in the past few years.
"First of all, I really need to make adjustments in terms of getting used to the culture here, and also this ballclub, the Orioles ballclub," Wada said through the interpreter. "That is the very first step, I think, to getting used to the culture here, and then go from there."
To make things easier on Wada, Duquette said the club will hire his personal trainer and also provide an interpreter. He said he has already had discussions with Wada about training regimens and styles, but nothing will be set until spring training approaches.
Wada and Dana Eveland, a journeyman starter whom the Orioles acquired in a minor trade last week, are both left-handed. Assuming they both make the rotation, they'll be joining another lefty, Zach Britton, who had an uneven but promising rookie year in 2011.
Since the Orioles play in the AL East, which is loaded with tough left-handed hitters, it's not a coincidence that the first pitchers they have added under Duquette have been lefties.
"You can't get to the level that [Wada is] at, to be the top in your league, without preparation, good mental toughness and understanding the game, so he has all those traits," Duquette said. "He's a very uniquely skilled player, and we're glad to have him. The fact that he's left-handed is a big bonus because a lot of those teams build their club around left-handed hitters."
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